UMASS, STATE ENVIRONMENTAL OFFICIALS KICK OFF ‘THE ESTUARIES PROJECT’ TO RESCUE SOUTHEAST COASTAL WATERS FROM NUTRIENT CONTAMINATION
NEW BEDFORD – Bob Durand, Secretary of Environmental Affairs, and William M. Bulger, President of the University of Massachusetts, along with other environmental and elected officials, today unveiled The Estuaries Project, Southeastern Massachusetts Embayment Restoration, a comprehensive assessment of water quality in 89 estuaries stretching from Duxbury to Cape Cod and The Islands and around the Southeast Coast. The $12.5 million project, to be completed over six years, will be financed by a combination of state, municipal and private funds, and carried out by students from the University of Massachusetts School of Marine Science and Technology (SMAST), in collaboration with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Two years ago, the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA) and UMass signed an agreement to cooperate on environmental projects. The idea was to give EOEA access to the vast talent pool at the various UMass schools while giving students valuable hands on experience in their fields of study.
This latest joint venture will evaluate the nutrient pollution present in coastal estuaries from sewage treatment plants, fertilizer runoff, storm water and other sources, and recommend management solutions to the participating cities and towns. Since sewage treatment facilities are being planned, expanded or debated in many of these communities, the scientific data in this study will give decision-makers a sound basis for their public policy decisions.
This project will help make sure these sensitive natural systems do not become overtaxed by pollutants and lose the ability to support a rich diversity of plant and animal life, said Secretary Durand. This project is an investment by the Commonwealth and our many partners in the quality-of-life along the Massachusetts shoreline, which is an economic as well as aesthetic asset to our state.
The University of Massachusetts is the ideal resource for state agencies such as EOEA and DEP to tap for a project as comprehensive as this one, said President Bulger. This illustrates once more the wisdom of the public land grant university created by the Morrill Act of 1862, which led to the establishment of the University of Massachusetts in 1863.
Many communities have begun the complicated process of trying to determine what is necessary to improve water quality in their bays so that the multitude of uses and resources they have historically provided can continue into the future, said DEP Commissioner Lauren A. Liss.
DEP's involvement in many of these local projects prompted the funding of this study in an effort to provide all coastal communities with a consistent and cost-effective approach that will
provide them with the kinds of information and data necessary to begin the task of planning how to appropriately control and manage nutrients flowing into the watersheds and embayments. State Senator Mark Montigny, Chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, has been a longtime advocate for the School for Marine Science and Technology. I am deeply proud, as I know all New Bedford residents are, that we have a world-class resource like SMAST here in our backyard, said Sen. Montigny. The investment that the state has made into building this institution will help ensure the preservation of these 89 estuaries for future generations.
UMass Dartmouth brings the intellectual resources of its School for Marine Science and Technology (SMAST) to The Estuaries Project, said UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Jean F. MacCormack. The SMAST contribution of research, grant writing and project management provided by Dr. Brian Howes and his team has a value of $1.5 million. This represents a significant contribution to the project, as well as a substantial savings for the EOEA and DEP, and the participating communities. And it may well be that SMAST's contribution to scientific knowledge as a result of this project is priceless. SMAST is pleased to be able to provide this research for the communities in Massachusetts that are taking a forward-thinking approach to protecting their local environment, said SMAST Director Dr. Brian Rothschild. The application of scientific research to serve the Commonweath is a vital part of our mission.
This project has been the culmination of more than 10 years of efforts by citizens, municipalities, scientists and environmental agencies, said principal researcher Dr. Brian Howes. The Estuaries Project has emerged to meet a real and significant need at the local level, namely, how are we to manage our watersheds and estuaries. The health of bays and harbors throughout Southeastern Massachusetts is clearly declining and we are poised at the cross-road, where we can restore them or allow their continuing degradation and accept an erosion of what most in the region consider a critical part of their quality of life.
Coastal embayments in Massachusetts are rapidly experiencing a decline in ecological health as they become nutrient enriched. The primary cause of the problem is an overabundance of nitrogen discharged within the watersheds of the affected embayments. Locally, the primary source of the nitrogen contaminant is wastewater. Storm water, leaching lawn fertilizers and discharges from agricultural land uses also contribute varying quantities of nitrogen to the problem.
The decline in ecological health can result in the loss of eelgrass, fisheries habitat and spawning grounds, shellfish beds and related recreational uses. Algae mats can bloom within the embayments, causing serious ecological and pungent quality-of-life problems for local communities. These issues cause negative impacts on offshore marine ecology, local fishing and shell fishing activities, the tourism industry and the local tax base. The Estuaries Project collaborative effort between EOEA, DEP, SMAST, municipalities throughout the region, and other regional entities will provide communities with a cost-effective and consistent approach to evaluating the conditions of the 89 estuaries and recommending solutions. SMAST technical experts will work with DEP to classify the sensitivity of Massachusetts's shallow coastal water bodies, conduct analysis and present options for meeting nitrogen goals for these embayments. Key additional technical partners will include the Cape Cod Commission and the U.S. Geological Survey.
Twenty estuaries have been identified for evaluation in the first phase of the project, from the Islands and extending along the southeastern Massachusetts Coast: Popponesset Bay; Sulpher Spring/Bucks Creek/ Chatham; Muddy Creek; Bassing Harbor/Ryders Cove/Frost Fish Creek; Stage Harbor System; Taylors Pond, Chatham; Bournes Pond; Hamblin Pond/Quashnet River/Jehu Pond; Great/Perch Pond; Green Pond; Agawam River/Wareham River/Broad Marsh River/Marks Cove; Little Pond; Nantucket Harbor; W. Falmouth Harbor; Three Bays; Edgartown Great Pond; Oyster Pond; Sesachacha Pond; Acushnet River/New Bedford Inner Harbor; and Eel Pond/Back River, Bourne.
A special web site on The Estuaries Project, Southeastern Massachusetts Embayment Restoration initiative, has been posted on the DEP web site. It can be accessed at www.mass.gov/dep and by clicking on The Estuaries Project button.