The Massachusetts Estuaries Project (MEP) – Overview

– Lake Tashmoo
– Lagoon Pond
– Vineyard Haven Harbor

View chart representing the current status and progress of all the estuaries on Martha’s Vineyard Estuaries Project

Estuaries are special bodies of water where the sea meets the mouth of a river or stream. They provide not only recreational opportunities but also important habitat for shellfish and sea grasses as well as breeding grounds for important marine fisheries. The 89 estuaries and embayments of southeastern Massachusetts stretch from Duxbury south and include Cape Cod, Buzzards Bay, the Islands, and Mt. Hope Bay. Protection of these coastal water resources has increasingly become a priority for Massachusetts oceanfront communities.

To protect and restore the estuaries in southeastern Massachusetts, we need to understand all the factors in each estuary that are causing the problem and then take measures to address them. The Massachusetts Estuaries Project (MEP) was established in 2001 for this purpose.

The MEP is a collaborative effort among coastal communities, the Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), the School for Marine Science and Technology (SMAST) at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA), and the Cape Cod Commission.

Through extensive data collection and modeling, the MEP will determine the following:
Geographic area contributing nutrients to each estuary,

Nutrient sources and loads,
· Nutrient load each estuary can tolerate without dramatically changing its character and use.

Over the next several years, a Technical Report and Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) analysis will set the target nitrogen concentration (nitrogen threshold) to be met in the estuary in order to meet Water Quality Standards and restore a healthy ecosystem. Once the MEP sets this threshold, communities can begin planning implementation strategies to protect and restore their estuary

Nutrient removal will come primarily in the form of wastewater treatment and secondarily through stormwater management programs, wetlands restoration, and managing the use of lawn fertilizers. In some scenarios, changing the water flow in some estuaries to increase flushing may be useful. The Technical Reports and subsequent modeling will help identify the most promising nitrogen reduction approaches for each estuary.

Many MEP communities are already aware of the impact of excess nitrogen loading and are supporting the project in important ways:

· Contributing approximately 40% of the overall cost of assessment of estuaries.

· supporting local monitoring programs to provide the data needed for assessing their estuaries.

· Establishing local groups of officials and citizens to interface with SMAST and MassDEP staff.

· Providing input to the Cape Cod Commission and MassDEP on regulatory and policy issues the MEP will need to address.

Ultimately, communities will take the lead in carrying out implementation plans for nitrogen reduction through Comprehensive Wastewater Management Planning (CWMP), which will lay out the steps and timetable for how the TMDLs will be achieved. MassDEP will work cooperatively with MEP communities during the CWMP process to devise strategies for nitrogen reduction and provide regulatory input to implement the TMDL. Funding will be available for implementation measures through the Massachusetts Clean Water Revolving Fund.