Bourne voters oppose regional wastewater plan involving Wareham, Marion

Nov 22, 2021

Bourne residents have voted to oppose the use of an existing sewage outfall pipe at Mass Maritime Academy to discharge treated wastewater from Wareham’s treatment plant into the Cape Cod Canal.

The Nov. 15 Town Meeting vote was non-binding. But the measure, which passed on a voice vote, demonstrates that planning for a regional sewage solution that would use the pipe is likely to face citizen opposition in Bourne.

Use of the outfall pipe is part of a scheme -- now in the relatively early planning stages -- to have Wareham's wastewater treatment plant handle waste from Wareham, Marion, Mass Maritime and parts of Plymouth and Bourne.

The Wareham facility currently discharges treated water into the Agawam River, which is sensitive enough that the amount of treated water that can be released there is limited.

Those planning the regional project note that extending the outfall pipe to discharge into the much larger canal, where there are strong currents to disperse the treated water, would allow the Wareham plant to treat much more wastewater. The plan would also require expanding Wareham’s plant.

The regional plan is being led by the Buzzards Bay Coalition and others in the interest of cleaning up coastal waters by running more wastewater through Wareham's highly rated system.

The Bourne residents who brought the citizens’ petition article to Town Meeting contend that the plan would, instead, sully the canal, endangering its value as a recreational and tourist attraction.

Scientists from the Buzzards Bay Coalition, Mass Maritime and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute said at a Jan. 26 meeting of the Bourne Selectmen that the proposal would eliminate 90,000 pounds of nitrogen each year from Buzzards Bay. Nitrogen is one of the primary contaminants from wastewater, which has devastating effects on water quality and the flora and fauna in the ocean. The project would utilize Wareham’s sewer facility, which Korrin Petersen of the Buzzards Bay Coalition said out-treats every other sewer system in the region, removing 95 percent of the nitrogen from water before it is released. Scientists estimate that if this plan goes ahead, about 3.5 million gallons of treated water would be released at the outfall pipe per day. 

The greatest reduction in nitrogen would come from expanding sewerage to homes in Bourne, Plymouth, and perhaps, Marion. Standard septic systems do not treat for nitrogen. The project would also involve connecting 1,200 Bourne homes that currently use septic systems to the sewer. 

Even if 10 million gallons of treated water were released into the canal each day, the increase in the nitrogen levels in the water would be “tiny,” a WHOI scientist said in January. 

“The article is not based on science, is not brought forward by wastewater experts or coastal ecologists, and offers no constructive alternatives to the significant pollution challenges facing the town,” wrote the Buzzards Bay Coalition.

The outfall pipe plan stems from a 2015 agreement between Bourne, Wareham, Plymouth, and Mass Maritime Academy to work together to solve wastewater problems. Marion joined the group in 2018.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the date of the Bourne Selectmen’s meeting.