Press Release: 2023-11-20

MassDEP Seeks Public Comments on Nitrogen Cleanup Plan to Restore the Health of the Wareham River Estuarine System


Public Meeting to be held Virtually on Nov. 28; Registration is Required




Edmund Coletta, MassDEP – Director of Public Affairs


Call Edmund Coletta, MassDEP – Director of Public Affairs at 617-797-2683


Email Edmund Coletta, MassDEP – Director of Public Affairs at

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) will hold a public meeting on Tuesday, November 28, 2023, to seek comments on a draft plan to reduce nitrogen in the coastal waters of the Wareham River Estuarine System in Buzzards Bay.

The meeting begins at 2 p.m. and will be a virtual meeting only hosted via Zoom. To participate, you must register in advance of the meeting. Click here to register. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

The restoration plan for the estuarine system, developed by MassDEP and the University of Massachusetts/Dartmouth School for Marine Science and Technology, is proposed as part of a comprehensive, collaborative project intended to improve estuarine water quality in 70 embayments along the southeastern Massachusetts coastline.

The Wareham River Estuarine System is currently impaired because of excess nutrient concentrations, mainly nitrogen, which can lead to:

  • Loss of eelgrass beds, which are critical habitats for fish and macro-invertebrates such as snails, worms and nymphs;

  • Undesirable increases in macro-algae, periodic algae blooms;

  • Periodic extreme decreases in dissolved oxygen concentrations that threaten aquatic life; and

  • Reductions in the diversity of bottom-dwelling animal communities.

The waterbodies in the Wareham River Estuarine System are listed on the 2022 Massachusetts Integrated List of Watersfor nutrient-related impairments, including: estuarine bioassessments, low dissolved oxygen, total nitrogen, chlorophyll a, and nutrient/eutrophication biological indicators.

Steady population growth and increased land use development, particularly during the last several decades in southeastern Massachusetts, has created an overabundance of nitrogen in Buzzards Bay harbors, bays, and estuaries. The primary controllable nitrogen sources are septic system wastewater, wastewater treatment facility discharge, stormwater runoff, and fertilizers. Atmospheric deposition also contributes varying quantities of nitrogen to aquatic systems.

At the public meeting, MassDEP staff will present a draft Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for limiting nitrogen to the amounts that the waterbodies can absorb without violating established criteria in the Massachusetts Surface Water Quality Standards and impairing uses such as fishing and recreational activities. The plan calls for reducing watershed sources of nitrogen by 37.7percent. Most of the reductions will be from improved wastewater treatment, but nitrogen from stormwater and fertilizer use should also be controlled wherever possible.

A major component of this effort was three years of chemical, physical, and biological studies within the Wareham River Estuarine System. A dynamic water quality model was also used to determine the present sources of nitrogen and loading rates, the nitrogen concentrations that will result in the restoration and protection of the embayment, and the target nitrogen loading rates that will achieve those protective concentrations. The watershed modeling and TMDL analysis will serve as a planning tool for communities to implement new comprehensive wastewater management strategies to improve estuarine water quality. 

A copy of this Draft TMDL is available on MassDEP’s website.

The Massachusetts Estuaries Project Final Technical Report for Wareham River Estuary System on which the TMDLs were based, is available here.

The public comment period ends at 5 p.m., December 28, 2023. Written comments can be submitted to: Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, Watershed Planning Program, 8 New Bond Street, Worcester, MA 01606. Electronic format comments should be sent to:, and include ‘Wareham River TMDL (CN 549.0) comments’ in the subject line.

A further explanation of the Massachusetts Estuaries Project can be accessed on the MassDEP website.

MassDEP’s mission is to protect and enhance the Commonwealth’s natural resources – air, water and land – to provide for the health, safety and welfare of all people, and to ensure a clean and safe environment for future generations. In carrying out this mission, MassDEP commits to address and advance environmental justice and equity for all people of the Commonwealth; to provide meaningful, inclusive opportunities for people to participate in agency decisions that affect their lives; and to ensure a diverse workforce that reflects the communities we serve.