Environmental Officials Discuss Alternative Nitrogen Removal Methods

BARNSTABLE – Local, state and national environmental officials gathered earlier this week in Woods Hole to look at the region’s nutrient and nitrogen loading issues and best solutions to restore clean water on Cape Cod.

Executive Director of the Barnstable Clean Water Coalition Zenas Crocker said the Problem Formulation Workshop discussed problem watersheds and alternatives to sewering, including innovative alternative septic system technology.

About 80 percent of nitrogen pollution in the region comes from septic systems. The nitrogen flows into rivers which go to bays and estuaries. The nitrogen becomes fertilizer in saltwater and causes algal blooms. The blooms consume all of the oxygen in the water which results in harmful habitats and fish kills.

“We looked at shellfish. We looked at aquaculture,” Crocker said. “We know there is a big opportunity there.”

Crocker also said there were also discussions about Permeable Reactive Barriers. The barriers are technology where wood chips or emulsified vegetable oil is put injected underground where bacteria removes the nitrogen and turns it into gas, which is harmless to humans.

“We are going to work with the town, with the state and our scientist partners to develop some approaches to actually pilot some of these interventions, put them in the ground, test them and try them out,” Crocker said.

Crocker said the Barnstable area isn’t going to see municipal sewering for decades and that other alternatives must be explored.

“This was really meant to get the smartest people in the room to understand more about the problem and how we go about solving it here on Cape Cod,” Crocker said.

The workshop was attended by representatives from the Marine Biological Laboratory, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole Research Center, UMass Dartmouth, UMass Amherst, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, and the town of Barnstable.

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