WRWA’s goal is to keep people informed about topics regarding the health of the Westport River and its watershed. Many of these topics are interrelated and complex, yet addressing them is valuable in order to raise awareness and understanding of the concerns facing the Westport River and its environment.
Pollution in the Westport River
Currently, the most dominant problem affecting the Westport River is pollution, most significantly from nitrogen and pathogens (fecal waste). Both branches of the river, along with numerous tributaries, are considered impaired waters by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (Mass DEP) due to the high existing levels of bacteria and nitrogen. Mass DEP is responsible under Massachusetts General Law (MGL) Chapter 21 for monitoring the waters of the Commonwealth, identifying those waters that are impaired, and developing a plan to bring them back into compliance with the Massachusetts Surface Water Quality Standards. The list of impaired waters, better known as the “303d list,” identifies river, lake, and coastal waters and the reasons for impairment. Once a waterbody is identified as impaired, Mass DEP is required by the Federal Clean Water Act to essentially develop a “pollution budget” designed to restore the health of the impaired waterbody. The process of developing this budget, generally referred to as a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), includes identifying the causes (types of pollutant) and source(s) (where the pollutants come from) of the pollutant from direct discharges (point sources) and indirect discharges (non-point sources), determining the maximum amount of the pollutant that can be discharged to a specific water body to meet water quality standards, and developing a plan to meet that goal.
Westport Receives its Report on Nitrogen Pollution in the Westport River
The Town of Westport recently received the results of a multi-year study done as part of the Massachusetts Estuaries Project (MEP). This project was developed to help guide towns in their assessment and management of their coastal rivers and bays, which is required by the federal Clean Water Act. The MEP informs towns about how much nitrogen there is in their bays and rivers, what a healthy level of nitrogen is, and options for cleaning up the bays and rivers.
The report, which is available here: http://www.oceanscience.net/estuaries/Westport.htm, reveals that the major contributors of nitrogen to the Westport River are wastewater, agriculture, and the atmosphere. Since at this point the Town cannot control air pollution, solutions to reducing the wastewater and agriculture sources must be found.
The report also says that:
- The amount of nitrogen in the Westport River is 18% over the “healthy” level of nitrogen, which is the level at which eelgrass grows and thrives
- The East Branch is more polluted by nitrogen than the West Branch
- The highest nitrogen levels in the watershed are in the upper Westport River and Bread & Cheese Brook
However, there is good news provided by this report. The nitrogen levels in the River are excessive but not extreme. If efforts to reduce and manage nitrogen in the watershed are increased in the near future, results should be noticed fairly quickly. Additionally, because so much of the land in Westport is open space, for instance agriculture and conservation land, the Town has “controlled” a major source of pollution that results from development, which is wastewater. Click here for more nitrogen pollution information.