State requests local input on nitrogen limits

Nov 20, 2023

Ahead of a Tuesday, Nov. 28 public meeting, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has emphasized the importance of local input on the process of setting nitrogen limits on Wareham's watershed. 

Excessive nitrogen — a chemical released from septic systems, agricultural fertilizer, wastewater treatment plants and more — has caused damage to the waters in Buzzards Bay and in Wareham. 

A set of limits proposed by the Department — the Total Daily Maximum Load, which establishes the amount of nitrogen that can safely be released into a water body — call for a 37.7% reduction in the amount of nitrogen released into the waters of the Wareham River Estuary System. 

The Department wants Wareham to develop a local plan to address this excessive nitrogen. Current rules will not require septic system owners to install nitrogen-reducing upgrades if Wareham doesn't adopt a local plan. 

"Under current Title V regulations, new construction and existing septic systems in the Wareham River Estuary System watershed would not be required to upgrade as the result of local government not adopting a [wastewater management plan]," said Department of Environmental Protection Press Secretary Ed Coletta. 

"MassDEP recognizes that restoring polluted waters is a long-term process,” Coletta added. “For this reason, MassDEP supports an adaptive management approach for implementing a TMDL [Total Maximum Daily Load]: taking the most cost-effective measures first, measuring their impact and making adjustments where necessary."

Septic systems are the largest contributors to nitrogen pollution in Wareham, producing 43% of the nitrogen emitted from local sources. According to the DEP, there are an estimated 3,000 septic systems within the town of Wareham portion of the Wareham River watershed, a watershed that stretches well into Plymouth and Carver. 

The public meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 28 will be held virtually at 2 p.m. Pre-registration is required; for instructions, visit 

The meeting is an opportunity for the public to learn about and comment on the proposed nitrogen limits. It also kicks off a 30-day public comment period. 

"MassDEP recognizes that the public can provide knowledge on the status of impaired waters and ongoing local management efforts," said Coletta. "Citizen information and public participation can aid TMDL development and accelerate the restoration timeline for impaired waters."

Written comments can be submitted via mail to: Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, Watershed Planning Program, 8 New Bond Street, Worcester, MA 01606. They can also be submitted by email to, with 'Wareham River TMDL (CN 549.0) comments' included in the subject line.