2002 Review of the Buzzards Bay NEP
June 13, 2002
Dr. Joseph Costa, Director
Buzzards Bay NEP
2870 Cranberry Highway
E. Wareham, MA 02538
Dear Dr. Costa:
The purpose of this letter is to thank you and your staff for your 2002 Implementation Review submission and to communicate findings about the Buzzards Bay Project (BBP) developed by the Implementation Review Team (Team) that recently conducted an on-site review. We appreciate the considerable effort that you and your staff put into the submission as well as the time and effort you, your staff, and your partners took to respond to the Team's questions both before the Team arrived on-site and during the Team's two-day visit.
Based on the EPA review team's findings, we believe that the BBP continues to make significant progress implementing its Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP). We are pleased to report that the Project "passes" the 2002 implementation review and will be eligible for FY 2003, 2004 and 2005 funding authorized by the Clean Water Act S.320. Considering our expected budget for the NEP, we are setting the base planning targets at $300,000 per year for FY 2003 - 2005. Planning targets are the funding levels that EPA hopes to provide to the Programs, and may be used for the purpose of beginning to develop workplans. Actual funding levels will be determined once the Agency has received its final budget from Congress and completed its internal budget allocation process, which generally occurs late in the first quarter of the Federal fiscal year.
Since 1997, the Implementation Review has proved to be an extremely valuable tool for assessing the extent and effectiveness of NEP CCMP implementation and, thus, each NEP's funding eligibility. The 2002 review process has proven similarly valuable. The Implementation Review, which emphasizes increased interaction between review teams and individual NEPs, has added considerably to the EPA Headquarters and Regional staff knowledge of Tier I and Tier II NEPs, and will promote sharing of effective initiatives and approaches across all 28 programs. We hope this format proved beneficial to the BB's effort, and welcome any comments you may have about how we can further improve the review process.
Buzzards Bay NEP Implementation Review Findings
I would like to summarize the Team's key findings regarding the BBP's strengths and provide some recommendations regarding potential areas for improvement. The review comments are intended to applaud the BBP's successes and support efforts to further strengthen the Buzzards Bay NEP.
The Implementation Review submission, the on-site tour, and discussions with BBP staff and the leadership of partner organizations provided the Team with substantial information about Buzzards Bay NEP activities. It is clear that the BBP is a major force for watershed protection and restoration in the Buzzards Bay watershed. During the on-site visit, Team members were particularly impressed by the BBP's leadership within Massachusetts and across the New England region in: (1) providing environmental data and technical assistance to watershed municipalities, environmental groups, and residents; (2) pursuing an innovative, hands-on approach to open space planning and preservation, wetlands protection, and nitrogen management; and (3) regularly identifying grant funds to a range of watershed groups in support of CCMP implementation. In addition, the Team found that the BBP repeatedly demonstrates its willingness and capacity to seize new opportunities for enhancing water quality in the Buzzards Bay watershed.
Progress on Implementation
As indicated in Implementation Review and supplementary materials, the Buzzards Bay watershed is impacted by five priority problems: (1) inadequacy and/or failures of on-site wastewater disposal systems, (2) contamination and closure of productive shellfish beds, (3) increased population and development pressures that reduce the amount of viable open space, (4) recreational activities that degrade the watershed's natural resources, and (5) the need for greater local capacity to address the watershed's priority problems. Under your leadership, the BBP has taken major steps to complete 57 percent of CCMP recommended actions targeting these five priority areas, an accomplishment that we applaud. The Team was also pleased to learn that with the establishment of an implementation tracking spreadsheet in 2000, the BBP can now easily track the number of recommended actions completed, as well as estimate how much additional work is required on each uncompleted action. In addition, the Team was pleased to learn that the spreadsheet is accessible to the public via the BBP's website.
Highlighted below are several implementation efforts that the Team found especially noteworthy.
Construction and Institutionalization of the Alternative Septic System Test Center:
As indicated in the CCMP and follow-on documents, the inadequacy and/or failures of on-site wastewater disposal systems and contamination and closure of productive shellfish beds cause major problems in the 28 shallow embayments feeding into the central portion of Buzzards Bay. In the CCMP, the BBP targeted management of nitrogen-sensitive embayments as one of its priority concerns, and the Team was impressed to learn of the BBP's success in addressing that concern. For example, one CCMP recommended action calls for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to adopt cost-effective alternative technologies for wastewater de-nitrification. By promoting plans, soliciting funds for, and supporting construction in 1998 of the Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center, a facility that tests and promotes on-site system alternative technologies, the BBP played a critical role in advancing environmentally-sound, economically-efficient nitrogen management. The effectiveness and efficiency of the Test Center led the State DEP in 2001 to assume all financial responsibility for the Test Center. EPA commends the BBP for having played an important role in establishment of the Center, and is especially pleased that the State has assumed long-term financial responsibility for the Center.
Increased Availability of Shellfish Resources for Recreational and Commercial Use:
A major goal of those who developed the CCMP over 15 years ago was to increase the number of open shellfish beds in Buzzards Bay. The BBP has taken several major steps to re-open shellfish beds, several of which are noteworthy. For example, the BBP and the Buzzards Bay Coalition (Coalition) augments the work of under-staffed biologists from the State Division of Marine Fisheries by arranging for volunteers to monitor upper reaches of watersheds to gain a more comprehensive picture of sources that are causing shellfish closures. In addition, in 2001 the BBP completed a draft stormwater atlas of all Buzzards Bay discharges. The atlas can be used by natural resource managers to identify shellfish beds that are currently closed or threatened by stormwater pipes, and take necessary actions to ensure against wet weather closures.
These are but two of the numerous examples of recent implementation successes noted by the Team, and EPA congratulates the BBP for its overall effectiveness in pursuing implementation of CCMP recommended actions.
As noted earlier, the Team was especially impressed by the BBP's intensive program for providing technical assistance to municipalities, environmental groups, and residents. Implementation Review documents and discussions with BBP stakeholders and partners indicate that in the past several years, the BBP has demonstrated its capacity and willingness to very effectively provide technical assistance, including: (1) fact sheets about technologies tested at the Alternative Septic System Test Center; (2) GIS maps, open space plans, and by-laws for watershed municipalities; these tools enhance municipalities' capacity to conduct proper planning and successfully compete for grants; (3) working with the Buzzards Bay Action Committee (BBAC), a partner organization, to develop an oil spill manual for municipalities; and (4) in 1999, technical support to the BBAC in the preparation of the bay-wide nomination package for designation as a no-discharge area; in 2000 Buzzards Bay received that designation.
As noted in the Implementation Review submission, the BBP conducted nitrogen-loading evaluations of New Bedford Harbor and the Wareham River in support of EPA's development of nitrogen limits for NPDES permits for sewage treatment facilities discharging to those embayments. In addition, the Coalition for Buzzards Bay sponsors a Buzzards Bay Baywatchers monitoring program that evaluates the relative eutrophic condition of the 28 embayments in the watershed. The Coalition's most recent report, issued in 1999, indicates there has been an improvement in baywide water quality, with the percentage of embayments classified as fair to poor having decreased from approximately 83 percent in 1994 to 67 percent in 1998. The Coalition's monitoring program also has established baseline and trend data for the 28 embayments that are now being used by State and local natural resource managers. EPA commends the BBP and its partners for their impressive nitrogen-loading evaluation efforts, which are the pre-cursors to a State-sponsored nitrogen loading assessment and ecosystem response model effort targeting 89 Massachusetts embayments.
BBP Resources and Long-term Finance Strategy
It is clear that over the years, the BBP and its partners have increasingly and very successfully leveraged a range of Federal and State financial and technical assistance funds, which have then been parceled out primarily in the form of competitive and technical assistance to municipalities and non-governmental organizations. As the Implementation Review submission indicates, Buzzards Bay communities account for 12.5 percent of the population of all Massachusetts coastal communities, yet 31 percent of all Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management Coastal Pollution Remediation Program grants go to the Buzzards Bay watershed. Similarly, while Buzzards Bay municipalities account for less than four percent of all Massachusetts municipalities eligible for Section 319 non-point source pollution grants, between 1994 and 2001 Buzzards Bay municipalities and partners received nearly 22 percent of all 319 grants awarded.
By generously providing funding and in-kind technical assistance, the BBP not only has built the capacity of entities working to achieve water quality improvements, but has made it increasingly likely that those entities can successfully apply for funding to support projects that implement CCMP recommended actions. EPA commends the BBP for successfully leveraging an increasing amount of Federal and State funds and for building the capacity of stakeholder and partner entities such that they qualify to receive water-quality improvement funding.
EPA believes that the BBP's overall progress in implementation and its many achievements are very impressive. The challenges identified here build in part on themes raised in the 1999 review, which we recognize that the BBP continues to address in an appropriate way. The BBP's response to these recommendations will be evaluated in the 2005 Implementation Review.
Increase Outreach to All Municipal Officials on the Buzzards Bay Action Committee
While Implementation Review materials and on-site discussions made it very clear that the Buzzards Bay NEP works closely with the Buzzards Bay Action Committee on a range of CCMP issues, the Team recommends that the BBP become more actively involved with local regulatory boards to increase their understanding of BBP efforts. EPA believes that increased involvement throughout communities would: (1) help build greater capacity to address water quality issues, (2) ensure that all towns' concerns and perspectives are articulated and then considered by the BBP, and (3) raise a wider awareness of BBP successes and the range of activities in which the Buzzards Bay NEP is involved.
Work with the Buzzards Bay Coalition and the Massachusetts Watershed Initiative to Raise BBP Visibility
The Team is impressed with the extent to which the partnership among the Buzzards Bay NEP, the Buzzards Bay Action Committee, and the Coalition for Buzzards Bay effectively implements CCMP recommended actions. Nonetheless, the Team believes that even more could be done to increase public awareness of BBP and partner activities, and recommends that:
- the Buzzards Bay NEP, Buzzards Bay Action Committee, the Buzzards Bay Coalition and other interested partners jointly host a "State of the Bay" conference whose goal would be to publicize CCMP implementation progress and improvements in watershed water quality to the broadest possible audience;
- the conference be held in conjunction with an effort to update the CCMP and re-evaluate BBP and partnership priorities; the conference could take the form of a kick-off event, could serve as an interim outreach effort, or could celebrate completion of a CCMP re-evaluation effort;
- a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) be developed to include the State's Buzzards Bay Watershed Team as a fourth signatory; this would make clear to partnership stakeholders and the general public the relationship between the Watershed Team and the partnership, and would ensure coordination and continuity of support should the leadership of any partner organization change;
- the Buzzards Bay Coalition and the State's Buzzards Bay Watershed Team acknowledge their relationship to the Buzzards Bay NEP; acknowledgements could include hotlinks from the Coalition's and the Massachusetts Watershed Initiative's websites to the BBP website, references to the partnership MOU in Coalition and State Buzzards Bay Watershed Team annual reports and newsletters, and inclusion of regular BBP updates in Buzzards Bay Coalition and State Buzzards Bay Watershed Team publications.
Increased Coordination and Visibility Under Auspices of Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management (CZM)
During a discussion between two Team members and the Assistant Director of the Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management office, several issues were raised that EPA would like to call to your attention. For example, the CZM official concurred with the Team that the BBP is a very effective force for coastal water quality improvement in the watershed. However, she noted that the BBP could better publicize its activities and accomplishments. For example, the BBP could make a greater effort to participate in the quarterly meetings sponsored by Massachusetts CZM for all the State coastal programs. BBP's increased participation in these meetings would facilitate cross program information sharing and technical transfer and assistance. CZM also suggested that coordination between the BBP and the Massachusetts Bay NEP could be improved to the benefit of both watersheds. For example, the suggestion was made that the two Massachusetts NEPs collaborate by co-sponsoring a beach monitoring workshop for municipalities in their watersheds.
Project Recommendations to EPA
The Team and EPA want to thank you for providing EPA with several suggestions for enhancing NEP effectiveness. You recommended to Team members that: (1) EPA develop a success stories document, (2) all NEPs be able to participate in a leveraging study similar to the one piloted by the Coastal Bend Bays Program, and (3) NEPs be able to participate in a pilot web database effort. We appreciate your making these suggestions, and will take them into consideration as we follow-up on this round of Tier I and II Implementation Reviews.
Thank you again for participating in the Implementation Review process. We welcome any additional thoughts you may have either about the review process itself or about EPA's involvement in Buzzards Bay CCMP implementation. If you have any questions or comments, please contact me or Darrell Brown, Chief, Coastal Management Branch, at telephone number (202) 566-1256.
Suzanne Schwartz, Director
Oceans and Coastal Protection Division
cc: Robert W. Varney, U.S. EPA Region I
Susan Snow-Cotter, Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management
Robert H. Wayland III, U.S. EPA
Craig Hooks, U.S. EPA
Linda Murphy, U.S. EPA Region I
Darrell Brown, U.S. EPA
Dave Webster, U.S. EPA Region I
bcc: Bruce Rosinoff, U.S. EPA Region I
Mel Cote, U.S. EPA Region I
Marilyn Katz, U.S. EPA Headquarters
Betsy Salter, U.S. EPAHeadquarters