Overall Planning

The retreat of the glacier in the last Ice Age, some 15,000 years ago, left the eastern part of the Town of Falmouth with two great gifts: a remarkably permeable sandy soil, and a series of shallow, partly fresh, partly saltwater estuaries, where all kinds of marine life thrived.

Falmouth has more such coastal estuaries within its boundaries than any other town in Massachusetts. Waquoit Bay, Eel Pond, Bourne's Pond, Green Pond, Great Pond, Little Pond - from the time of the first human settlement, until today, these water bodies have been vital to our community's economic success, and to its very identity. Over the years, especially the last 50 years, we have been negligent in our care and protection of these estuaries. We cut them off from the ocean with roads and jetties. We built thousands of houses near them, we built shopping malls, motels, and acres of paved parking lots and roads and driveways in their watersheds. With every heavy rain we poured thousands of gallons of road runoff into them, and every spring and fall we spread hundreds of pounds of fertilizer nitrogen next to them. And, because of the glacier's gift of sandy soil, the nitrogen in the wastewater from all those thousands of houses we built flows right through the sandy soil into our estuaries, promoting algae blooms and killing off the fish and the shellfish and the eelgrass that formerly thrived in those waters.

The result? These water bodies are dying.

The Planning Process (2009 - Present)


Our community is home to some of the world's premier scientific institutions studying marine life, and our conversations are informed by their expertise. Over the past five years, the people of Falmouth have been engaged in a widespread and detailed discussion, recognizing that the increasing levels of nitrogen, from all of these sources, is the principal cause of the degradation of these coastal ponds. We have accepted as our starting point in understanding the extent of the damage, the scientific evidence and model presented in the Massachusetts Estuaries Project (MEP) Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) studies conducted for each estuary by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth School of Marine Science and Technology (SMAST).

These studies, and many others, confirm that nitrogen loads must be reduced if we are to restore high water quality and our valuable fisheries resources. At the same time, we have not accepted the premise that sewering is the only method for reducing the nitrogen loads in our coastal estuaries. That proposition was recommended in 2009, in a preliminary Draft Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan (CWMP) that proposed sewering over 8,000 residences and businesses on the peninsulas adjacent to the estuaries, and then in the following decades sewering thousands more in the watersheds north of the estuaries, at a total eventual estimated cost of $600 million.

Issues


It was clear that sewering that much of the Town, at that high cost, would present many undesirable impacts - high density development pressures in newly sewered areas, and economic impacts on homeowners, as well as on the taxpayers at large. In a Town with a total bonded indebtedness of just over $100 million, a proposal to expend $600 million, even over decades, was staggering.