Cape Cod’s abundant wildlife, unique ecosystems, residents and visitors all depend on one essential resource – clean water. Cape Cod has a single-source aquifer providing drinking water across the region and protecting this precious asset has never been more important for safeguarding the future health of Cape Cod.

This page serves as a resource to help you understand what’s at stake with our most valuable asset– clean water.


Cape Cod’s Aquifer

Watch an informative presentation by the Cape Cod Commission’s Water Resources Analyst, Tim Pasakarnis. In this video, Tim provides a comprehensive overview of Cape Cod’s aquifer system.

Wastewater Science

Introducing Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center’s (MASSTC) Potty Talk, a new podcast bringing you water and wastewater science. In their first episode recorded on April 26, 2023, MASSTC staff talk Wastewater Basics.

Barnstable County Weighs in on EPA Findings: Multi-Gun Range at JBCC

Dowload the presentation by Barnstable County’s Department of Health and Environment on May 10, 2023.


Learn How Barnstable County is Helping to Mitigate PFAS Contamination

Watch the most recent virtual public meeting that presented the Phase II Comprehensive Site Assessment (CSA) Scope of Work update, recorded on July 27, 2023.


Learn more about Barnstable County’s water quality initiatives and programs by exploring the links below.

Whether it is protecting the public from environmental contamination through monitoring Cape Cod’s drinking water, groundwater, and surface water sources at the Barnstable County Water Quality Laboratory, offering effective wastewater management programs to towns and individuals to reduce nutrient discharge into groundwater, providing dredging to open the Cape’s waterways for towns, fostering the sustainable development of private/public aquaculture endeavors, or issuing grants to towns and environmental groups to enhance wastewater management projects and to test our freshwater ponds for cyanobacteria, Barnstable County is actively working to protect the health of our communities across the region.

Barnstable County Cooperative Extension

Department of Health and Environment

Mitigating PFAS Contamination

The County Dredging Program

ARPA Funding

Hazardous waste, water quality & recycling program

  • Household Hazardous Waste Program
  • Waste Reduction and Recycling
  • Water Quality & Well Water – the mission of the Hazardous Waste & Water Quality Program is protecting our drinking water supply, an unconfined sole-source aquifer, through public education and regional collection programs of hazardous materials.
  • Groundwater Guardians –  Learn about this collaboration of Cape Cod professionals working to engage residents, visitors, and fans of Cape Cod in making clean water available for everyone! They have a great podcast, too! Check out One Drop Leads to Another 

Marine Programs

  • Aquaculture -Shellfish education and programs

The Southeastern Massachusetts Aquaculture Center (established 1995)

  • The mission of the Southeastern Massachusetts Aquaculture Center (SEMAC) is to foster the sustainable development of private/public aquaculture endeavors within the southeastern region and throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts by way of a coordinated effort including education, research, technical and economic assistance, best management practices and demonstration projects.

Protect public health and water resources through testing, surveillance, monitoring, and research.

The mission of the Water Quality Laboratory is to protect public health from exposure to environmental and anthropogenic contamination through monitoring and analysis of the Cape’s drinking water supplies, groundwater, and surface water sources. Public water supplies and public bathing beaches on Cape Cod are routinely monitored for bacteriological, inorganic, and chemical parameters to ensure compliance with State and Federal Safe Drinking Water Act standards.

  • Provides high-quality analytical services to our region’s private residents and municipalities.
  • Municipalities – helps towns to adhere to the necessary state and federal water quality standards. Helps towns when periodic problems arise
  • Private drinking water wells – monitors water quality. Sample pick-ups are in Truro, Wellfleet, Eastham, Brewster, Falmouth, and Mashpee
  • Support Barnstable County’s groundwater and recreational monitoring initiative including the Landfill Monitoring Program providing surveillance of groundwater plumes beneath regional landfills. Also runs the Bathing Beaches Monitoring Program, which collects, analyzes, and reports on the quality of bathing water Cape-wide from Memorial Day to Labor Day annually.

Did you know? Barnstable County Emergency Planning provides a Tier Two Hazardous Chemical Inventory Report for Barnstable County. This is life-saving information for State and local officials. The data is used to train personnel, preplan hazmat responses, map out hazardous chemical locations in relation to sensitive populations (e.g., schools & nursing homes), and ensure that safety training needs are met in the region at no cost. Namely, investing in an accurate inventory can lead to greater efforts toward mitigating hazards – ultimately saving lives, and protecting our environment, including water quality.

Effective wastewater management is essential to public health and the environmental protection of the Cape Cod Aquifer.  There are three self-sustaining programs:

The Innovative/Alternative Septic System Tracking Program – assists towns with monitoring the I/A septic systems to verify nutrient removal performance, at no cost.

The AquiFund Community Septic Management Loan Program – aims at upgrading failed residential systems (including apartments and condos) to current Title 5 Standards. For over 15 years, Barnstable County has administered CSMLP, now known as AquiFund, for all 15 Cape Towns. It has provided over $52.2 million in loans for over 4550 septic systems and for sewer system hook-ups. The current loan term is 5% with a 20-year repayment limit.

The Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center (MASSTC) – using untreated wastewater from Joint Base Cape Cod, MASSTC research ways to reduce nitrogen pollution through the development of innovative products and technology. It also tests for emerging contaminants.

  • The Phosphorus Pilot Project – Phosphorus is essential to life, but excessive amounts in water create toxic algae blooms, caused by cyanobacteria, that are harmful to humans, pets & wildlife. Septic systems and fertilizers are largely responsible for the excess phosphorous on Cape Cod. Barnstable County received a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to run a pilot project to determine the effectiveness of selected technologies to reduce phosphorous from septic systems in watershed areas near ponds.

Bathing Beach Water Quality – Barnstable County has monitored Cape Cod’s beach water quality for over 30 years. The County receives EPA funding through Mass DEP to conduct sampling and bacteriological analyses of public marine beach water. Over 350 marine and freshwater, beaches are sampled and analyzed weekly, a total of over 4,300 samples per season. The water is tested for the presence of fecal bacteria which indicates that the water condition could cause illness.

Cyanobacteria Bacteria on Cape Cod – Local public health officials recognize that cyanobacteria (toxic blue-green algae blooms) is an area of concern for residents and visitors alike, and meet regularly to determine a proactive multi-agency approach for dealing with this complex issue, which requires attention from both a public health and environmental standpoint.

  • What is Cyanobacteria? Cyanobacteria is a natural phenomenon that can occur in healthy ecosystems. On Cape Cod, fertilization and faulty septic systems have introduced an overabundance of nutrients into the environment, which leads to an ecologically unhealthy condition called eutrophication – the process by which a water body becomes enriched in dissolved nutrients such as phosphates and nitrogen. The greater the nutrient availability, the more fuel for cyanobacteria to grow and thrive. Global warming also plays a key role with warmer pond temperatures favoring cyanobacteria.
  • Barnstable County partners with the Association to Preserve Cape Cod (APCC) to monitor Cyanobacteria- Barnstable County partnered with APCC, a local non-profit environmental organization, to proactively monitor Cape Cod’s ponds for cyanobacteria and, more specifically, the toxins they sometimes produce. With the assistance of Barnstable County’s seasonal beach monitoring staff, APCC collects pond water samples and uses a predictive methodology called CyanoCasting. While this method provides useful information regarding cyanobacteria presence and abundance, it does not provide data regarding the existence or quantity of harmful toxins.
  • If APCC’s CyanoCasting method determines that additional toxin testing is warranted, the Barnstable County Water Quality Lab will then perform toxin analysis via the Environmental Protection Agency surface water sampling methodology. If toxins are found to be present in an amount considered to be harmful to humans and pets, an advisory will be issued by the local board of health to make the public aware that swimming could pose a risk of illness.

About Barnstable County’s Work on PFAS Mitigation 

In November 2013, PFAS was discovered in Mary Dunn Wells, 1-3, the Flint Rock Pond, and in the soil around the former fire training site all located in Hyannis. PFAS, known as per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances are a large group of man-made chemicals that are found in household products, clothing, and, in the case of the fire training site, firefighting foam. They are known as “forever chemicals” and are known to cause severe illnesses such as cancer and thyroid disease.

A Pump and Treat System that utilizes a granular activated carbon filter to remove PFAS from the contaminated water was installed at the Mary Dunn Wells. The former fire training site was one of three documented sources of significant PFAS contamination, the other two locations were the Cape Cod Gateway Airport and the Barnstable Water Pollution Control Facility. Barnstable County is working with MassDEP under the Massachusetts Contingency Plan (MCP), the regulations that govern the assessment and clean-up of uncontrolled releases of hazardous materials.

Phase I – the Initial Site Investigation – was completed in 2018. Phase II Comprehensive Site Assessment (CSA) is the next major phase of the MCP process to mitigate PFAS contamination.  It is currently underway.

The Phase II CSA will assess how far and where the PFAS contamination has traveled with the groundwater and how it has impacted the adjacent pond and other small ponds in the immediate area.   Most importantly, Phase II will evaluate the potential risks to human health and the environment from the fire training related to PFAS at the Site.

All the information derived from the current study will be used to evaluate and select final, comprehensive remedial actions for all aspects of the PFAS contamination during the next phase of the mitigation and cleanup process. There are public meetings held throughout all the Phases to update the public as to the progress of the mitigation measures.

In October 2022, Barnstable County Commissioner requested $4 million in ARPA funding for PFAS Remediation Pump and Treat System to broaden the groundwater treatment for the area including and surrounding the former fire training site.

An additional ARPA funding request included $830,000 to create a PFAS identification and Analysis Program within the County’s Health and Environment Department. The program would assess environmental conditions across the region to determine the extent of PFAS contamination in public drinking water supplies, private wells and other ground and surface water sources.

The Dredge Program Dredging is a proactive and environmentally responsible method of nurturing and protecting Cape Cod’s waterways. The benefits of dredging include returning a waterway to a healthy ecological state, preserving an economic asset for Cape Cod, securing the public’s safety for commercial fishing and recreational boating, and saving money for towns. Brewster is the only town on Cape Cod that does not use the County’s dredging program, as the town does not have any harbors or channels along its coast. The program is 25 years old and there are two dredging boats available for use.

Due to the high priority that Barnstable County places on water quality protection and wastewater management, the county has proposed dedicating 72 percent of ARPA funding to regional service investment that enhances testing and monitoring of town and private water systems, expands the County’s research laboratory analytical capacity and equipment for more robust environmental protection, offers alternative septic services to towns for wastewater management and provides financial help to residents for septic or sewer improvements.

Barnstable County Administration requests: $4,257,345

PFAS Remediation Pump and Treat System (clean-up project at former fire training site): $4,000,000

Barnstable County Water Initiative Management: $257,345

Cape Cod Commission request: $2,469,992

Freshwater Pond Initiative: $2,469,992

(Funded out of general fund surplus – no need for ARPA Funds, but is included here)

Dredge Equipment $ 1,125,000

Health Department requests: $4,646,397

PFAS Identification and Analysis Program: $829,086

MA Alternative Septic System Technology Center: $1,383,086

I/A Septic System Responsible Management Entity Program: $672,873

Barnstable County Water Quality Laboratory Enhancement: $1,266,481

(Increase nitrogen & cyanobacteria monitoring)

Barnstable County Clean Water Finance Center (aka the AquiFund): $257,345

Harmful Algal Bloom Assessment monitoring: $237,526

(Source: $10 million dedicated ARPA revenue to the towns)

Town of Yarmouth – $1,042,760.57 to fund the Town’s wastewater infrastructure design phase. This allows the town to prepare to start construction on the project.

Town of Barnstable – $1,965,218.61 for the 720 Main Street Pump Station replacement.

Town of Falmouth – $1,334,782 to upgrade the Town’s Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Town of Mashpee – $664,229.94 to help fund the implementation and construction of Phase 1 of Mashpee’s comprehensive wastewater management, treatment, and disposal improvement plan.

Town of Sandwich – $849,300.42 – for a clean water improvement project for the Sandwich Public Schools.

Town of Orleans – $330,503.00- for the design and construction of improvements to the Town’s drainage in the Meetinghouse sewer area.

Upcoming Events