Cape Cod Is Being Ruined by Human Waste

And by the septic tanks that currently capture it
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 7, 2023 9:30 AM CST
Cape Cod Is Being Ruined by Human Waste
A stock photo of Cape Cod.   (Getty Images/LeapingRay)

Cape Cod has been "a cherished destination for generations," writes Christopher Flavelle for the New York Times, and in some ways, that very fact is what's hurting it. Flavelle digs in to the troublesome and odorous situation the Massachusetts locale is experiencing thanks to a ballooning population. That influx of people means more, well, toilet use. Most of the Cape still relies on "antiquated septic systems." Were there a sewage system in place, human waste would be routed to a treatment facility, which would sharply decrease the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen that's seeping into the area's ponds, rivers, and bays. Once there, they're fueling algal blooms that are encouraged by warming waters that have been attributed to climate change. The result: muck, and lots of it.

The algal blooms sap the water of oxygen, which kills the vegetation, then decompose into muck that kills the shellfish population, makes the water dangerous to humans, and produces an unpleasant smell, The solution that's been identified is the installation of new public sewer lines and a treatment plant, but at a cost of billions—which critics argue would be so great a cost that some residents would be forced out of their homes. As Flavelle writes, the eventual decision on the matter "could be a model, or maybe just a warning, for other coastal communities facing similar predicaments as the climate warms and overwhelms infrastructure built for an earlier age." (Read the full piece here for much more on the situation, including how the septic systems that 95% of properties currently use there work.)

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