Complaint Claims Town’s Sewage Treatment System Polluting Watershed

On Tuesday, the Conservation Law Foundation filed a complaint against Barnstable, a town in Massachusetts, claiming that the defendant “discharges nitrogen-laden septic wastewater” into the Lewis Bay Watershed System from its water pollution control facility located in Hyannis, Massachusetts. 

The lawsuit, filed in the Massachusetts District Court, purported that the sewage collected into the facility is only partially treated before the waste, then referred to as effluent, is poured into sand beds on the facility.  “Even after partial treatment, the Facility’s effluent has high concentrations of dissolved pollutants, including nitrogen,” the complaint explained. 

Reportedly, the Town of Barnstable disposes of 1.46 million gallons of the effluent in the sand on its facility each day. The plaintiff claimed that it then travels through the sand beds to the soil around the facility and later into Lewis Bay and other creeks and waters in the watershed system. 

The Conservation Law Foundation purported that historically the bays in the system had diverse aquatic life, specifically eelgrass, and have been valued by residents, the plaintiff’s members, and visitors to Cape Cod. The bay, however, is currently suffering from “a severe nitrogen-pollution crisis” resulting in invasive algae and algae that produces “putrid smells and unsightly scums.” 

The complaint cited the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection which said that if the nitrogen pollution is not controlled the algae could completely replace the eelgrass, fish would be killed, and there would be more bad odors and scum, reducing both commercial and recreational uses of the water in the Lewis Bay Watershed System. 

The plaintiff purported that these actions by the town are breaching the Clean Water Act, specifically because the defendant does not have a permit under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Scheme. Tuesday’s complaint asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief, for the court to enjoin the defendant from continuing to discharge pollutants, and for the defendant to be required to pay up to $56,460 per day for each violation of the Clean Water Act.