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Protecting Cape Cod’s Water Through Wastewater Management 

Submitted by State Senator Julian Cyr & Representative Sarah Peake | April, 2023 

Protecting Cape Cod’s water is critical to the survival of our unique coastal region. Our waterways, estuaries, embayments, and ponds are important to our marine life, commercial, and recreational uses. During National County Government month, we want to thank Barnstable County for raising awareness about how important it is to protect and preserve the Cape’s drinking water, surface water, and groundwater. We appreciate the County’s commitment to regional issues like preserving water quality, working alongside the Cape’s 15 towns and our state legislative delegation.  

As so many know, nitrogen and other nutrient pollution from septic systems is the biggest threat to our water quality. Harmful nutrients leach into our groundwater from failed, poorly performing, and traditional Title V systems causing toxic algae blooms in our fresh and saltwater ponds, rivers, and beaches. These blooms are harmful to the health of humans, pets, wildlife, and marine life. With over 126,000 properties using onsite septic systems, municipalities are turning to building and expanding sewer systems for wastewater treatment.  

Safeguarding Cape Cod’s natural resources is essential to a healthy community and a thriving economy. It is equally important to recognize the financial limitations of homeowners in funding municipal sewers projects. Recognizing the need to lessen the financial burden on property taxpayers, we spearheaded legislation in 2018 to create the Cape Cod and Islands Water Protection Fund (CCIWPF). The CCIWPF is a dedicated revenue stream to help finance municipal wastewater treatment projects. Currently, all 15 Cape Cod towns are members of the CCIWPF Board and the Cape Cod Commission hosts and supports the work of the fund. Nearly $100 million dollars has been granted to towns to date by the CCIWPF, and it’s important to note that all revenue in the fund comes from short term vacation rentals on Cape Cod.  

In the current legislative session, we are keeping property taxpayers in mind as we advocate to add a tax credit for sewer connections to Governor Healey’s tax relief legislation. We are consistently looking for opportunities to help taxpayers afford these needed infrastructure improvements. And we are not alone – Barnstable County has a great community loan program, known as Aquifund, that helps individuals with the cost of sewer connections.  

Aquifund provides equitable access to financial assistance for residential wastewater management, allowing homeowners to make decisions that benefit the environment. To help with the financial hardship that many residents will face when they are upgrading their septic systems or connecting to a municipal sewer, Aquifund provides loans at rates calculated by financial need that can be as low as 0%. Having Aquifund available from our regional government partner to all Cape Cod residents allows for efficiency and equitable access in service to residents and cost saving to towns.  

In addition to Aquifund, Barnstable County offers other wastewater management programs. The County’s Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center researches ways to reduce nitrogen pollution through the development of innovative products and technology. It also tests for emerging contaminants. Its Innovative/Alternative Septic Tracking Program assists towns with monitoring I/A septic systems to verify nutrient removal performance at no cost. Our region benefits from the comprehensive research, testing, and financial services Barnstable County provides to all fifteen municipalities and their residents to manage wastewater.  

As an international tourist destination, towns on Cape Cod see a seasonal population influx that doubles the cost of wastewater management solutions. As towns work hard to solve the problem of degrading water quality due to nitrogen and nutrient pollution, we want them to know they are not alone in managing the cost of wastewater management projects. The legislature set up the CCIWPF, which will help towns pay for their sewers and, in addition, Barnstable County has Aquifund that helps residents with the expense of sewer connections or septic upgrades. On the Cape, we are fortunate to have a thriving county government that provides funding, programs, and services to preserve and protect the quality of life for everyone who lives on Cape Cod.