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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Massachusetts (Section 319I - 1994)

Reopening polluted shellfish beds for harvesting is a priority for the Massachusetts Nonpoint Source Program, particularly in the North River. This river has scenic river protection status with deed restrictions on almost all properties within 300 feet of the riverbank. To achieve success, the state has embarked upon a program to assist local water quality organizations in identification, construction, education, regulation, enforcement, and follow-up monitoring.

Local Group Working to Reopen Shellfish Beds

The closing of shellfish beds contaminated from bacterial pollution concerns many citizens of the North and South Rivers watershed, located south of Boston above Plymouth. So the North and South Rivers Watershed Association (NSRWA), made up of a group of active, concerned volunteers, decided to tackle the problem. Although state and local authorities had previously done some water quality studies, funding had disappeared. With a combination of private donations, section 319 funds, a Massachusetts Bays grant for Action Plan Demonstration Project, and other monies, the group was able to restart the monitoring project and work toward mitigation efforts. More than 40 volunteers have worked over the last three years to sample water quality before, during, and after rainstorms; identify the hot spots; and work with landowners and local communities to clean them up.

To determine specific pollution sources, volunteers followed pipes, inspected catch basins, and searched for illegal hookups. Their investigation found that the bacterial pollution, particularly rampant after rainfalls, was caused by failing septic systems, stormwater discharges, illegal septic connections, and roosting birds. Working with individual polluters to correct situations and with the local boards of health to enforce local ordinances, the group made great strides in cleaning up the North River. Specific actions included upgrading septic systems, eliminating illegal connections, installing boat septage pumping facilities, constructing stormwater best management practices, and educating landowners and the general public. A retrofit infiltration system for the North River is being constructed, with a Massachusetts Bays grant covering half the construction cost.

The experience in the North River encouraged the group to take on the South River, a major tributary that had not been looked at for some 20 years. A survey of storm drains identified five priority areas that were then monitored before, during, and after rainstorms. The South River report on storm drains, including schematic design and suggested approaches, was made possible with section 319 money left at the end of the North River work.

With approximately $35,000 of section 319 money and funding from other sources, the association has successfully melded local, state, and federal resources in an ongoing effort to clean up the rivers and extend the schedule for harvesting shellfish. Its data will supplement that of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, the agency that determines the schedule for additional harvesting days.


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