Nitrogen Cleanup Plan Proposed for Westport River

The east branch of Westport River | Photo by John Phelan, via Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a nitrogen-pollution cleanup plan called a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the Westport River in southeastern Massachusetts. The river has suffered from an overabundance of nitrogen for decades, and has been listed on the state’s “dirty waters list” since 2002. Nitrogen enters the river in many ways, including home septic systems.

The proposed Westport Rivers TMDL calls for 71% of the needed nitrogen reductions to come from improvements to septic systems, which are the largest source of nitrogen pollution in Buzzards Bay.

According to the Buzzards Bay Coalition (BBC), even properly functioning Title 5 septic systems—which most homes in Westport use to treat waste—aren’t designed to remove nitrogen from wastewater.

In May 2017, the BBC and the Westport Fishermen’s Association (WFA) released a report showing that the Westport River has lost nearly half of its signature salt marsh islands during the past 80 years. Nitrogen pollution is increasingly being identified as a cause of salt marsh losses along the East Coast. Excess nitrogen also creates algae blooms, which block sunlight from reaching native vegetation and rob the water of oxygen during decomposition.

Learn about boating and paddling in Westport.