State lawmakers seek to combat nutrient pollution

Fernandes and Cyr file legislation offering incentives to communities to protect aquatic ecosystems.

State Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, and state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, shown here at an MVC meeting in 2019, have filed legislation to combat nutrient pollution in Massachusetts. — Gabrielle Mannino

Cape and Islands lawmakers are looking to protect the precious water resources stewarded by coastal communities by proposing legislation that provides incentives for communities to reduce nutrient pollution that damages aquatic habitats, according to a press release.

State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, and state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, recently filed legislation to create a Blue Communities Program that highlights the importance of reducing ocean acidification through nine different initiatives. 

The main drivers of ocean acidification in Massachusetts are global increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide caused by anthropogenic emissions, and local nutrient pollution leading to the eutrophication of coastal waters.

Eutrophication occurs when an excess of certain nutrients (like nitrogen and carbon dioxide) in water causes dense aquatic plant growth that starves animal life of oxygen and makes it difficult for the sunlight to penetrate down through the water column.

The nine elements of the legislation to combat nutrient pollution are: a liquid hazardous waste program; groundwater protection regulations; a rain barrel program; a shell collection system for local businesses; a shellfish or seaweed regenerative ocean farming operation or restoration project; a water quality monitoring program; a plan to eliminate municipal owned sanitary sewer or combined sewer overflows; a fertilizer bylaw and lawns program; and a stormwater utility program. 

Under the bill, if communities adopt five of the nine initiatives, they will receive access to funding for further ocean acidification mitigation programs, the release states.

“Local communities should take a leading role in protecting the state’s environment and

economy from the impacts of local nutrient pollution on aquatic life,” Fernandes said in the release. “The Blue Communities Act will give municipalities a menu of cost-effective policies they can implement, incentivizing local action to preserve delicate marine ecosystems.” 

Cyr said in the release that the program sets a “high but achievable standard in solving ocean acidification and invites municipal governments to be a substantive collaborator in our response.”

The bill was created based on a report released in February, 2021 by the 18-member Massachusetts Special Legislative Commission on Ocean Acidification. Fernandes and Cyr served as co-chairs of the commission. The report found that the ocean acidification crisis would have a devastating effect on the commonwealth’s marine economy, which as of 2016 supported 87,000 jobs and generated $7.7 billion in sales. The United States is predicted to lose more than $400 million annually by 2100 as a result of ocean acidification, and Massachusetts communities are some of the most vulnerable in the country. 

Steve Kirk, coastal program manager for The Nature Conservancy and member of the Ocean Acidification Commission, said in the release that ocean acidification can have serious negative impacts on shellfish and marine life, which are essential to ocean health and the well-being of our coastal and blue economies.

“The Blue Communities Program will help Massachusetts address the drivers of acidification, namely reducing water pollution from wastewater and stormwater runoff,” Kirk said in the release.

The bill will soon be assigned a bill number and will then move through the legislative process.