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An easy fix for State of MA departments to get on the same page for pond protection

State of Massachusetts departments do not appear aligned on protecting the State's ponds. This is an issue that cuts across every pond and pond association. The State must get all of its departments heading in the same direction.

Title V regulations cover on-site sewage treatment and disposal systems. Section 15.216 covers the specific amount of nitrogen loading permissible when an an area is deemed nitrogen-sensitive. According to the current Title V rules:

The 440 gallons per day per acre nitrogen loading limitation imposed by 310 CMR 15.214 may be calculated in the aggregate by using nitrogen credit land in accordance with an approved Facility Aggregation Plan or Community Aggregation Plan. Applicants proposing systems to be located within a community or region covered by a Community Aggregation Plan approved by the Department shall calculate aggregate determinations of flows and nitrogen loadings in accordance with the Plan and the Department's Guidelines for Title 5 Aggregation of Flows and Nitrogen Loading.

Title V is up for revision as well, as we previously reviewed here. The big change would be to establish Nitrogen Sensitive Areas for "watersheds adversely impacted by nitrogen," according to the State's background document from November 1, 2022. The rules would also establish a Total Maximum Daily Load for waterbodies to meet water quality standards. If passed, the concept of a max nitrogen load that already exists in Title V rules seems like it would be expanded to additional watersheds that are mandated, or they may get an exemption by establishing a 20 year protection plan.

Meanwhile, MA Fish and Game put in nine hundred 14 inch Rainbow Trout into White Pond this spring, according to FOWP communications with the department. There is no indication that Fish and Game has considered the current Title V nitrogen load in their decision making, and Fish and Game plans to stock White Pond with Brook or Brown Trout in the next month or two. With few fishermen on the shores, these fish die off and release yet more nitrogen. Fish and Game has rejected our scientific evidence that Rainbow Trout feed on the zooplankton that inhibit toxic algae blooms, which is a real shame (see our commentary here). But where science fails, maybe bureaucracy can win.

Historically, MA ponds were seen as robust and capable of supporting a wide variety of pollutants. However, closures due to toxic algae blooms over the last decade prove this is not the case.

It's great that the MA Department of Environmental Protection is moving forward with Title V revisions, which will capture Cape Code and parts of the South Shore first. But more State departments including Fish and Game need to be included in the assessment of a Nitrogen Sensitive Area before engaging in business as usual.

Maybe the State has have a cross-department maxim that says something as simple as "if a pond has been closed in the last two years due to toxic algae blooms, it will be deemed a Nitrogen Sensitive Area and we won't put anything more into it that would increase the nitrogen level." That would be common sense for the Commonwealth.

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