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THE ESTUARIES PROJECT: Watershed/Embayment Nitrogen Management

Science Based Management for the Restoration and Protection of Massachusetts’ Estuarine Resources

Project Overview

Formed under the Memorandum of Understanding between EOEA and UMASS, the Massachusetts Estuaries Project is an effort to combine State, Regional and Local Agencies and groups for the restoration and protection of estuarine resources. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the UMASS/Dartmouth School of Marine Science and Technology (SMAST) initiated this collaborative project in December 2001, which includes significant partnerships with the Massachusetts Watershed Initiative Coastal Basin Teams, Cape Cod Commission, USGS and municipalities. The Project integrates more than 10 years of effort by DEP, SMAST and their partners. This effort forms the Projects foundation and includes the development of regional estuarine monitoring programs, eelgrass mapping, groundwater, land-use, and estuarine model development and implementation.

The Massachusetts Estuaries Project was initiated to reduce the level of municipal and state funds expended to meet the requirements of wastewater planning and implementation. The lack of consistent and defensible design targets for development of these large municipal capital projects was resulting in significant delays and often the need for additional implementation studies. The effect was increasing, yet preventable, cost burdens on communities. The Massachusetts Estuaries Project realizes cost savings through (a) utilization of state-of-the-art cost-effective approaches, (b) engagement of existing resources and (c) the implementation of a stream-lined plan to meet the specific needs of each agency and municipality. The most notable savings has been through the utilization of the State University resources coupled directly to existing state agencies and grass-roots efforts. The MOU between EOEA and UMass aimed at better application of university resources to meet environmental needs of the citizens of Massachusetts. The Project is bringing new technologies, approaches and regulatory guidance forward to reduce the present costs of on-going community efforts in conducting estuarine restoration.

The Project, through the University of Massachusetts - Dartmouth School of Marine Science and Technology (SMAST) is providing the scientific and technical support to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for the development and implementation of policies on nitrogen sensitive embayments. The 6-year program is performing the data collection and modeling required for the management and restoration of the 89 embayment systems comprising the coastline of southeastern Massachusetts.

Project Approach

The technical assessment of individual estuaries potential for assimilating nutrients (primarily nitrogen from human wastewater) is the critical first step of a municipal planning process that culminates in watershed/nutrient management plans. The teaming SMAST renowned for its expertise on estuarine environments with DEP responsible for the maintenance of water quality is making it possible to complete sophisticated scientific assessments of individual estuaries. The determination of the critical nutrient loading thresholds is based upon comprehensive water quality testing, quantitative hydrodynamic and water quality modeling, as well as site specific assessment of key habitat quality indicators. Based on the assimilative capacities (nutrient threshold) of a coastal system, a multitude of infrastructure and management approaches are recommended to Town Managers. The planning and engineering components of municipal infrastructure improvement are made clearer, more manageable and far more cost effective because projects are scaled and implemented relative to a specific target nutrient load. The partnership between towns and state agencies, established to serve town needs, facilitates collaboration, maximizes the effective use of financial resources needed to undertake the technical and planning tasks to improve coastal water quality, and drives estuarine restoration.

The Massachusetts Estuaries Project's overall deliverable is to determine the watershed nitrogen loading targets for guiding nitrogen reductions (or limits) within contributing watersheds to the estuaries of the various Towns. Each major sub-embayment to each of the estuarine systems will be assessed. However, it should be noted that the sub-embayments within a system do not operate independently, as nitrogen is transferred between them once it reaches the bay waters. The Massachusetts Estuaries Project (MEP) will incorporate all of the previous data and analysis conducted by the Towns and will work with consultants as necessary relative to wastewater planning or other nutrient management projects.

Region of Study

The 89 embayments are prioritized based upon State and Local planning efforts, environmental concerns, and local issues. Approximately 10-15 embayments will be selected each year for entry into a two-year cycle.

  • Ranking of Round 1 Priority Embayment Systems - January 2002

Round 1 Prioritization Map

Click map to enlarge.

Click map to enlarge



1. Mashpee/Barnstable

Popponesset Bay

2. Chatham:

Sulpher Springs/Bucks Creek

3. Chatham:

Muddy Creek

4. Chatham:

Bassings Harbor/Ryders Cove/Frost Fish Creek

5. Chatham:

Stage Harbor system

6. Chatham:

Taylors Pond

7. Falmouth:

Bournes Pond

8. Falmouth/Mashpee:

Hamblin/Jehu Ponds, Quashnet River

9. Falmouth:

Great/Perch Ponds

10. Falmouth:

Green Pond

11. Wareham:

Agawam/Wareham/Broad Marsh Rivers, Marks Cove

12. Falmouth:

Little Pond

13. Nantucket:

Nantucket Harbor

14. Falmouth:

West Falmouth Harbor

15. Barnstable:

Three Bays

16. Martha's Vineyard:

Edgartown Great Pond

17. Falmouth:

Oyster Pond

18. Nantucket:

Sesachacha Pond

19. New Bedford:

Acushnet River, New Bedford Inner Harbor

20. Bourne:

Eel Pond, Back River

  • Ranking of Round 2 Priority Embayment Systems - June 2003

Round 2 Prioritization Map

Click map to enlarge.

Click map to enlarge



1. Orleans

Namskaket Creek

2. Orleans:

Little Namskaket Creek

3. Orleans:

Rock Harbor

4. Orleans:

Nauset Marsh

5. Orleans / Harwich / Brewster:

Upper Pleasant Bay

6. Orleans / Harwich / Brewster:

Lower Pleasant Bay

7. Martha's Vineyard:

Lake Tashmoo

8. Martha's Vineyard:

Lagoon Pond

9. Mattapoisett:

Mattapoisett Harbor / Eel Pond

10. Marion:

Aucoot Cove

11. Nantuket:

Madaket Harbor

12. Nantuket:

Long Pond

13. Bourne:

Red Brook Harbor

14. Harwich:

Round Cove

  • Ranking of Round 3 Priority Embayment Systems - June 2004



1. Wellfleet:

Wellfleet Harbor

2. Dartmouth:

Slocums River

3. Dartmouth:

Little River

4. Dartmouth:

Apponagansett River

5. Mattapoisett:

Mattapoisett Harbor

6. Marion:

Sippican Harbor

7. Barnstable:

Centerville Harbor

8. Barnstable:

Rushy Marsh

9. Barnstable/Yarmouth:

Lewis Bay

10. Yarmouth:

Parkers River

11. Oak Bluffs/ Edgartown:

Sengekantacket Pond/Trapps Pond

12. Harwich:

Saquatucket Harbor

13. Harwich:

Allens Harbor

14. Harwich:

Wychmere Harbor

15. Harwich:

Herring River

For more information about The Estuaries Project, please visit the web site of The Estuaries Project and the web site of DEP  (Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection).