The Yarmouth we love exists because of the water that surrounds us. This water brings people to our beaches, recharges our drinking wells, and keeps our grass green and environment healthy. Yarmouth boasts abundant natural resources, including 15 public beaches and 70 ponds, which attract visitors from all over the world.
However, lack of wastewater infrastructure in the community has led to environmental deterioration through a reliance on on-site Title V septic systems for residential and commercial properties. These septic systems have resulted in severe nitrogen pollution in Yarmouth’s lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams. Due to a 722% increase in population in Yarmouth from 1951-2010, Yarmouth’s nitrogen problem has reached a critical stage. Each watershed in Yarmouth has been evaluated by the Massachusetts Estuaries Project to determine the amount of nitrogen which needs to be removed to restore our estuaries. The average nitrogen removal required in the Bass River watershed is 59.5%, with 96% required in the Parkers River watershed, and 80% in the Lewis Bay watershed.
Excess nitrogen levels in surface water can lead to excessive growth of aquatic plants and algae and reduced oxygen levels. This can cause beach closures, fish kills, and adverse impacts on shellfishing. Friends of Bass River have studied the health of the Bass River and have determined that the water quality continues to degrade over time.
The same nitrogen impacting our estuaries and bays also infiltrates groundwater supplying our wells. Because even properly maintained and functioning septic systems emit significant amounts of nitrogen, a municipal wastewater treatment and sewer system would prevent much of this nitrogen from entering the ecosystem in the first place thus preventing these negative environmental effects. From a public health perspective the level of nitrates in Yarmouth's drinking water wells has risen over time, particularly at wells located near areas of high-density septic systems. Additionally, on-site septic systems are a source for PFAS chemicals as property owners dispose of household products containing the chemical. A centralized wastewater system provides a more community-wide option to treat a multitude of contaminants that individual septic systems cannot address.