Making Democracy Work

Water Quality Management Committee

Mariam Cronin, Observer since July 2017

15 of Falmouth's estuaries are impaired due to high levels of nitrogen. The Water Quality Management Committee's mission is to identify and advance solutions that will either eliminate nitrogen from the watersheds or increase the estuaries' ability to utilize or disperse nitrogen in affordable and environmentally appealing ways. There are several ways of doing this in theory; the committee is responsible for proving which ones work and are cost effective in the real world.

The Committee usually meets twice a month except in summer when they meet once a month. Sometimes meetings are merged with those of other towns or other Boards when beneficial. Meetings are properly posted, start on time, and are available on CCTV. Minutes are reviewed and approved in a timely manner but the posting of Minutes to the Town Website often lags by months. Committee has shown an ability to self-police Open Meeting Law Rules.

Committee members are engaged and respectful to one another. They show awareness of the concerns of the public, other towns who share our estuaries but may have their own needs, and the town departments they work through. Recently the Committee has focused on developing draft plans for achieving targeted levels of nitrogen reduction from the impaired estuaries. The usual reduction tools are storm water management, enforcement of the fertilizer control bylaw, and shellfish aquaculture. Because each estuary is unique, additional tools are often needed including inlet widening, innovative enhanced nitrogen removing septic systems; permeable reactive barriers, or sewers. Falmouth is fortunate to have Committee volunteers with a deep understanding of estuaries, hydrology, septic systems, shellfish aquaculture, and government operations.

Other agenda items examples include:
1. The Little Pond sewer system which was successfully installed under budget and on time. The estuary will be monitored to see if nitrogen reduction targets are met. Recently a potential conflict between increased density housing projects and the state mandated "Flow Neutral" bylaw was identified.
2. The Bourne Pond Inlet opening/enhanced flushing project is still on track, making its way thru the permitting process with DEP, Corps Engineers, and MA DEP. If the program succeeds it will be significantly cheaper than sewering.
3. The aquaculture/shellfish project is very exciting since aquaculture might reduce nitrogen levels, create jobs, be profitable, and be a very natural solution. The current test focuses on measuring the cost and denitrifying effectiveness of floating bag systems. Results 2 years out.
4. Falmouth is testing several designs of advanced nitrogen removing septic systems in West Falmouth comparing costs, effectiveness, and manageability.
5. Finally, the Committee has proposed a warrant article for Fall Town Meeting to add Rands Canal, Fiddler Cove, Quissett Harbor and Falmouth Harbor watersheds to the Coastal Overlay map. These waterbodies were recently added to the impaired list. Limitations on development are therefore needed to minimize additional degradation to these waterbodies