Mass. Releases New Rules to Clean Up Cape Cod Pollution

Wastewater causing toxic algae blooms

Aerial view of algae mats in Prince Cove (north of North Bay) in Marston Mills, Massachusetts.

Aerial view of algae mats in Prince Cove (north of North Bay) in Marston Mills, Massachusetts.

June 23, 2023 (BOSTON, MA) – After a lawsuit was filed by Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has announced new rules designed to clean up wastewater pollution from septic tanks on Cape Cod. Ineffective septic tanks release high levels of nitrogen in wastewater which can cause toxic algae outbreaks in the Cape’s waters, which in turn place people at risk, harm fish and wildlife, and dampen tourism. CLF released the following statement in response to today’s news.

“Pollution from septic tanks has pushed Cape Cod’s waters to the brink of disaster,” said CLF attorney Maggie Nivison. “Toxic algae outbreaks destroy our waters, sicken people, and threaten the Cape’s critical tourism economy. The state has finally taken this crisis seriously, and these new rules are a tremendous first step in finally combatting this pervasive problem.”

The new regulations require residents and towns on the Cape to reduce the nitrogen in their wastewater. Towns may apply for watershed permits, which will allow each community to tailor its approach to reducing nitrogen output.  If towns do not apply for watershed permits within two years, Cape residents will be required to upgrade their individual systems to include nitrogen-removing technology within seven years.

CLF’s lawsuit was filed against Mass DEP in 2021. It sought to impose a schedule of enforceable steps to clean up the primary source of nitrogen – ineffective septic systems. CLF agreed to place its lawsuit on hold in 2022 based on DEP’s agreement to overhaul antiquated septic and wastewater regulations to require effective clean-up. Since that time, CLF has been pushing for the new regulations.

CLF experts are available for further comment.