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Section 208 Area-wide Water Quality Management Plan


In mid June 2015, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker certified Cape Cod's final Section 208 Areawide Water Quality Management Plan Update (see link in the right-hand sidebar), authorizing its submission to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The Cape Cod Commission developed and drafted the 208 Plan Update. It is a watershed-based approach to restore embayment water quality on Cape Cod. The plan recommends strategies, regulatory reforms and a process for communities to reduce or eliminate excess nitrogen, the primary cause of degraded conditions.

The Commission submitted the plan for Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection review in March 2015. In an addendum in June 2015, the Commission recommended designating each of the 15 Cape towns as Waste Treatment Management Agencies, or WMAs. WMAs are responsible for all of the nitrogen that enters the groundwater from land within their jurisdiction. The plan addendum also recommended nitrogen responsibility allocations.

The submission represents more than 24 months of work by the Commission, towns and hundreds of stakeholders. It also represents the start of the next phase: putting the plan into action.

That work began June 24, 2015, with a Cape-wide meeting in Harwich to explain what the WMA designation means for towns.

WMAs need the capacity to build and operate technologies to comply with water quality standards. They also must have authority to borrow the funds necessary to accomplish the work. The Commission worked with officials from all Cape towns leading up to the designations and will continue to work with them to develop collaboration agreements for shared watersheds.

Prior to the Conservation Law Foundation's 2010 federal lawsuit against the EPA over Cape Cod water quality, Section 208 of the Federal Clean Water Act (CWA) was virtually unknown outside the world of regulators. The Clean Water Act regulates point sources of pollution, which are generally understood to be those discharged from pipes into specific water bodies. Section 208 addresses both point and non-point sources of pollution, such as those carried through groundwater, which are not directly regulated under the CWA.

A settlement agreement reached in the CLF lawsuit in November 2014 established a timeline for submission of a final 208 Plan Update to EPA. Neither the Commonwealth nor the Commission were parties to the suit, but had specific obligations under the settlement agreement, including the filing of the final 208 Plan Update with EPA by June 15.

With the submission to EPA, those conditions were met. Under the terms of the settlement, EPA must now review the plan’s contents and the WMA designations and make a determination on its acceptance by September 15.


In January 2013, the Commonwealth directed the Commission to update the 1978 Section 208 Areawide Water Quality Management Plan to address nitrogen pollution in Cape Cod embayments. The recently-renamed Clean Water Trust provided $3.35 million for the effort.

More than a year was spent with 170 stakeholders to develop the approaches contained in the plan, representing more than 130 hours of facilitated public input and discussion.

For over a decade Cape Cod towns have struggled to solve the nitrogen problem and restore the health of our estuaries. Many towns developed plans to provide wastewater infrastructure to homes and businesses to restore embayment water quality. Few of these plans have been implemented. The capital costs of plans for just six of these towns range from $100-$700 million each. The total is over $2 billion for infrastructure better suited to urban areas with appropriate density and ratepayers.

The recommended regulatory reforms seek to narrow and shorten the review process through targeted watershed plans.

The 208 Plan Update establishes an approach better suited to the largely non-urban and seasonal communities on Cape Cod. It considers remediation and restoration approaches, in addition to source reduction. The plan identifies areas with suitable development density for collection systems and identifies land use characteristics appropriate for lower cost watershed and embayment technologies.

As of June 15, 2015



Section 208 Areawide Water Quality Management Plan Update



Plan Summary



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