THE ESTUARIES PROJECT: Watershed/Embayment Nitrogen Management
Science Based Management for the Restoration and Protection of
Massachusetts’ Estuarine Resources
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.
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.