Lawsuit Aims to Protect Cape Cod Waters From “Putrid Odors and Unsightly Scum”


The nonprofit Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) has filed a lawsuit against the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) and the towns of Barnstable and Mashpee for failing to protect coastal waters from pollution. The lawsuit alleges that nitrogen pollution from septic tanks has damaged the coastal ecosystem and that local and state officials – although they know the source of the pollution – have not sufficiently addressed the problem.

“The defendants were required by Commonwealth law to implement and enforce the mandatory legal requirement that these systems be upgraded to end their pollution, as well as to prevent subsequent installation of failed septic systems. “, indicates the CLF trial. “The defendants failed in this duty.

The CLF is asking the court to suspend the installation of any new septic system in the two cities and to order the defendants to submit a plan to upgrade or replace the polluting septic systems.

The association has worked on a number of other nitrogen pollution-focused lawsuits in Cape Town, but it is the first to focus on state law enforcement rather than federal violations. said Christopher Kilian, vice president of strategic litigation at CLF.

“The necessary first step is to stop using the thing that we know is causing the problem,” Kilian said. “It’s time to draw that line.

Septic tanks are a widely recognized water pollutant on Cape Cod. In 2015, the Cape Cod Commission – the state land use planning agency for Cape Town – released the Cape Cod Region-wide Quality Management Plan Update describing strategies to tackle the rapidly declining water quality and marine ecosystems on Cape Cod, writing: “The problem is nitrogen and the greatest controllable source are the septic systems in use every day. “

The lawsuit argues that the defendants’ inaction created an “ecological crisis” off the south coast of Cape Cod, leading to toxic algal blooms and killing flocks of eelgrass – a precious and productive marine environment. habitat. CLF noted in the lawsuit that “rotten detritus starves the seabed of sunlight, and algae blooms offer nothing but putrid odors and unsightly scum.”

Water pollution also threatens Cape Town’s economy. Coastal tourism and commercial and recreational fishing bring more than $ 1 billion to the local economy, according to a Report 2020 of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod. But, according to the lawsuit, “blooms of decaying algae are preventing the human beneficiaries of these waters from using” the waters.

“People come to Cape Town from all over the world because of its incredible natural resources and the quality of its water,” said Kilian. “The sad reality is that we are killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.”

MassDEP has received a copy of the CLF complaint and is now reviewing it, a spokesperson for the department told WBUR in an email.

The MassDEP spokesperson said that communities in Cape Town have made substantial progress since the 2015 plan in developing and implementing solutions to Cape Town’s water quality problems. However, according to the Association to Preserve Cape Cod report, the percentage of ponds and bays with “unacceptable” water quality has increased in recent years.

Kilian said CLF hopes the MassDEP and the cities will take action that may correct the problems. If not, the CLF is ready to take the case to court and make a full case because the water-carers on Cape Cod have “nothing to lose.”

“If we’re right and the law says what it says, then we could actually see progress,” Kilian said. “It’s time to have this fight because the waters are in a terrible state.”

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