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Environmental conditions in the Namskaket Marsh Area, Orleans, Massachusetts: A summary of studies by the U.S. Geological Survey, 1989–2011

September 23, 2016

Namskaket Marsh and its tidal creek system are potential receptors for a treated wastewater plume originating from a septage treatment facility in the northwest part of Orleans, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. From 1989 to 2011, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with State and local partners, conducted a series of studies in the Namskaket Marsh area to characterize the potential effects of the plume on the marsh and its tidal creek system. Studies included characterizing the baseline vegetation and salinity distribution in the marsh, monitoring the movement of the wastewater plume downgradient of the septage treatment facility, and sampling nutrient concentrations in the tidal creek system during a baseline period prior to the arrival of the plume at the marsh boundary. The Inner Namskaket Marsh baseline vegetation survey in 1995 found it to be dominated by Phragmites australis (common reed, 44 percent of vegetative cover), Spartina patens (salt marsh hay, 17 percent), and Spartina alterniflora (cordgrass, 9 percent). Phragmites occurrence was correlated with shallow pore-water salinity in the marsh peat and was largely confined to areas with salinities less than 4 parts per thousand. Baseline, ebb-tide nutrient concentrations at the tidal creek sampling stations during 1994–96 showed strong seasonal variations for ammonium, likely associated with the seasonal cycle of growth and senescence for the dominant salt marsh grasses (S. alterniflora and S. patens). The seasonal cycle for nitrate was generally less pronounced.

The movement of the wastewater plume has been monitored from its source at the septage treatment facility to areas immediately adjacent to and beneath the most inland part of the marsh. In late 1994, the plume was first detected by borehole geophysical logging in observation wells along the Cape Cod Rail Trail (rail trail), 600 feet northwest of the infiltration beds, at an elevation of 47 to 53 feet below the National Geodetic Vertical Datum of 1929 (NGVD 29). At the rail trail, the plume was largely confined below a 3- to 8-foot-thick silt/clay layer detected by borehole geophysical logging and confirmed by lithologic samples. By early 1998, a second plume segment was detected above this silt/clay layer at the rail trail, near the plume’s southwest boundary. Groundwater sampling in 2003–4 at additional stations southwest of the main plume, as well as beneath Namskaket Marsh, defined the extent of this shallow plume segment in glacial sands underlying the marsh.

The tidal creek sampling stations established in the 1990s were resampled in 2003–4 and 2010–11 to evaluate potential effects of the treated wastewater plume on creek water quality. The annual medians of the 2011 biweekly nitrate and total dissolved nitrogen concentrations were determined for each station and compared to the annual medians of biweekly samples for the baseline years 1994, 1995, and 1996. At all stations, the 2011 median nitrate concentrations were within the range of medians for the 3 baseline years. A similar result was obtained for total dissolved nitrogen. We conclude that the 2011 creek samples, collected approximately 8 years after the shallow plume segment was first detected beneath the marsh, do not show evidence of elevated nitrate or total dissolved nitrogen concentrations attributable to discharge of either the shallow or deep segments of the treated wastewater plume.

Publication Year 2016
Title Environmental conditions in the Namskaket Marsh Area, Orleans, Massachusetts: A summary of studies by the U.S. Geological Survey, 1989–2011
DOI 10.3133/sir20165122
Authors Peter K. Weiskel, Jeffrey R. Barbaro, Leslie A. DeSimone
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2016-5122
Index ID sir20165122
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization New England Water Science Center