Region 1: EPA New England

Plymouth/Carver FR

Updated Contact Information
Michael Hill • (617) 918-1398

(Cite as: 55 FR 32137)




Sole Source Aquifer Designation for the Plymouth-Carver Aquifer, Massachusetts

Tuesday, August 7, 1990

AGENCY: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

ACTION: Notice.

SUMMARY: In response to a petition from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Division of Water Supply (DWS), the Town of Kingston, and the Plymouth County Coalition for a Better Environment, notice is hereby given that the Regional Administrator, Region I, of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that the Plymouth-Carver Aquifer satisfies all determination criteria for designation as a sole source aquifer, pursuant to section 1424(e) of the Safe Drinking Water Act. The designation criteria include the following: Plymouth-Carver Aquifer is the principal source of drinking water for the residents of that area; there are no reasonably available alternative sources of sufficient supply; the boundaries of the designated area and project review area have been reviewed and approved by EPA; and if contamination were to occur, it would pose a significant public health hazard and a serious financial burden to the area's residents. As a result of this action, all federal financially assisted projects proposed for construction or modification within the Plymouth-Carver Aquifer will be subject to EPA review to reduce the risk of ground water contamination from these projects which may pose a threat to the health of persons in the acquifer's service area.

DATES: This determination shall be promulgated for purposes of judicial review two weeks after publication in the Federal Register.

ADDRESSES: The data upon which these findings are based are available to the public and may be inspected during normal business hours at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region I, J.F. Kennedy Building, Water Management Division, GWP-2113, *32138 Boston, MA 02203. The designation petition submitted may also be inspected at EPA Region I, or the Plymouth Public Library in Plymouth, or the Carver Public Library in Carver, Massachusetts.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Robert E. Adler, Ground Water Management Section, Water Management Division, EPA Region I, J.F. Kennedy Building, WGP- 2113, Boston, MA 02203, and the phone number is 617-565-3600.


I. Background

Section 1424(e) of the Safe Drinking Water Act (42) U.S.C. section 300h-3(e), Public Law 93-523, states:
If the administrator determines, on his own initiative or upon petition, that an area has an aquifer which is the sole or principal drinking water source for the area and which, if contaminated would create a significant hazard to public health, he shall publish notice of that determination in the Federal Register. After the publication of any such notice, no commitment for Federal financial assistance (through a grant, contract, loan guarantee or otherwise) may be entered into for any project which the Administrator determines may contaminate such aquifer through a recharge zone so as to create a significant hazard to public health, but a commitment for federal financial assistance may, if authorized under another provision of law, be entered into to plan or design the project to assure that it will not so contaminate the aquifer.

On April 7, 1989, EPA received a petition from the Massachusetts DEP requesting designation of the Plymouth-Carver Aquifer as a sole source aquifer. EPA determined that the petition, after receipt and review of additional requested information, fully satisfied the Completeness Determination Checklist. A public hearing was then scheduled and held on January 10, 1990 in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in accordance with all applicable notification and procedural requirements. A four week public comment period followed the hearing.

II. Basis for Determination

Among the factors considered by the Regional Administrator as part of the detailed review and technical verification process for designating an area under section 1424(e) were: (1) Whether the aquifer is the sole or principal source (more than 50%) of drinking water for the defined aquifer service area, and that the volume of water from an alternative source is insufficient to replace the petitioned aquifer; (2) whether contamination of the aquifer would create a significant hazard to public health; and (3) whether the boundaries of the aquifer, its recharge area, the project designation area, and the project review view are appropriate. On the basis of technical information availble to EPA at this time, the Regional Administrator has made the following findings in favor of designating the Plymouth-Carver Aquifer as a sole source aquifer:

  1. The Plymouth-Carver Aquifer is the sole source of drinking water for nearly all of the residents within the service area.
  2. There exists no reasonably available alternative drinking water source or combination of sources of sufficient quantity to supply the designated service area.
  3. The petitioners, with EPA assistance, have appropriately delineated the boundaries of the designated aquifer area, the aquifer recharge area, the project review area and the aquifer's service area.
  4. Although the quality of the aquifer's ground water is rated as good to excellent, it is highly vulnerable to contamination due to its geological characteristics. Because of this, contaminants can be rapidly introduced into the aquifer system from a number of sources with minimal assimilation. This may include contamination from several sources such as the following: chemical spills; highway, urban and rural runoff; septic systems; leaking storage tanks, both above and underground; road salting operations; saltwater intrusion; and landfill leachate. Since nearly all residents are dependent upon the aquifer for their drinking water, a serious contamination incident could pose a significant public health hazard and place a severe financial burden on the service area's residents.

III. Description of the Plymouth-Carver Aquifer, Designated and Project Review Area

The Plymouth-Carver Aquifer is a 199.0 square mile aquifer located in eight (8) towns in southeastern Massachusetts, primarily in Plymouth County, north of the Cape Cod Canal in Bourne and south of the Jones River in Kingston. Plymouth Bay borders the aquifer on the northeast with Cape Cod Bay bordering the eastern edge. As delineated in this petition, the Cape Cod Canal forms the southeastern border, Buzzards Bay forms the southern border, and the Weweantic River forms the southwestern border. To the west and north, the aquifer is bordered successively by the Weweantic River, Rocky Meadow Brook, Muddy Pond Brook, River Brook, wetland areas, and finally, along the northern border, the Jones River. It includes the entire area of the Towns of Plymouth, Bourne and Sandwich north of the Cape Cod Canal, most of the Towns of Carver and Wareham, substantial portions of Kinston and Plympton, and a small section of the Town of Middleborough (8 towns).

The Plymouth-Carver aquifer exhibits regional ground water flow patterns that are typical of coastal aquifers in eastern Massachusetts. Unlike upland stream-valley aquifer systems in which ground water flow is generally convergent or inward from high elevations of till and bedrock to low elevations within valleys, the flow pattern within the Plymouth-Carver aquifer is divergent, radiating outward from a topographically high area toward low lying bodies of both salt and fresh water. Ground water discharges to steams and the ocean.

The unconsolidated stratified glacial deposits which form the aquifer were deposited during the last retreat of glacial ice about 15,000 years ago. These deposits are saturated with water fed by direct infiltration of precipitation (recharge). The saturated thickness of the aquifer is the entire thickness of the aquifer from the water table to the top of bedrock. Ground water table elevations range from approximately sea level to approximately 125 feet at interior ground-water highs, with the maximum saturated thickness of more than 160 feet at some locations occurring along the axis of the underlying bedrock valley and its tributaries. Average hydraulic conductivities (ability of the aquifer material to transmit water) for stratified sand and gravel, range from 55 to 313 feet/day and average 188 fee/day. These values are consistent with values for similar deposits on nearby Cape Cod. The average rate of recharge to coarse-grained stratified drift is at least 1.15 million gallon/day/square mile (24 inches/year) and to fine-grained deposits is somewhat less.

Ground water in the aquifer system discharges to the many rivers and streams that drain the aquifer, to ponds, swamps, bogs and directly to the ocean. Average ground water discharge leaving the aquifer area as stream flow is about 140 cubit feet/second. All ponds and surface waters within the aquifer receive nearly all of their recharge from ground water and hence can be considered part of the Plymouth-Carver aquifer system. Much of the water that discharges to swamps and bogs is lost as a result of evaporation, transpirtation, and consumption water use.

The Plymouth-Carver aquifer is quite vulnerable to contamination. Because of its highly permeable and transmissive character, and large size granular materials, ground water contaminants can quickly travel long distances, and affect a large area. The recharge area is characterized by moderate relief. Activities occurring in the upland areas can have direct impact on ground water quality in the rest of the aquifer. The present quality of the water from the aquifer has been characterized as good to excellent. Municipal supply wells in the aquifer area have been affected by relatively few instances of major contamination. There are, however, several instances of local contamination which have occurred at several places in the aquifer.

The designated area is defined as the surface area above the aquifer and its recharge area, which in the case of the Plymouth-Carver aquifer, comprises the project review area as well. The project review area is also the same as the designated area.

IV. Information Utilized in Determination

The information utilized in this determination includes: the petition submitted to EPA Region I by the petitioners; additional information requested from and supplied by the petitioners; written and verbal comments submitted by the public, communities in the region, state legislators; coordination with the U.S. Geological Survey and technical information obtained from them, and the technical papers and maps submitted with the petition. This information is available to the public and may be inspected at the libraries or EPA Region I office identified under the "Addresses" section previously.

V. Project Review

EPA Region I is working with the federal agencies most likely to provide financial assistance to projects in the project review area. Interagency procedures and Memoranda of Understanding have been developed through which EPA will be notified of proposed commitments by federal agencies to projects which could contaminate the Plymouth-Carver Aquifer. EPA will evaluate such projects and, where necessary, conduct an in-depth review, including soliciting public comments when appropriate. Should the Regional Administrator determine that a project may contaminate the aquifer as to create a significant hazard to public health, no commitment for federal financial assistance may be entered into. However, a commitment for federal financial assistance may, if authorized under another provision of law, be entered into for planning or designing a project to ensure that it will not contaminate the aquifer. Included in the review of any federal financially assisted project will be the coordination with state and local agencies and the project's developer. Their comments will be given full consideration and EPA's review will attempt to complement and support state and local ground water protection measures. Although the project review process cannot be delegated, EPA will rely to the maximum extent possible on any existing or future state and/or local control measures to protect the quality of ground water in Plymouth-Carver Aquifer.

VI. Summary and Discussion of Public Comments

Forty five people attended the January 10, 1990 public hearing regarding the Plymouth-Carver Sole Source Aquifer Petition. Many delivered supportive oral comments, but the Town of Plymouth expressed some concern regarding the implications of a designation on their public works projects. Forty formal comments were made in total during the hearing and the four-week comment period. Comments were received from state legislators, local water supliers and fire districts, local communities, a regional planning agency, environmental interests, etc. All but one of these supported the designation. Questions were raised regarding the following:

  1. The location of the northwest corner of the delineated boundary; and
  2. The extent and limitations of protection provided by the federal Sole Source Aquifer Program and the need for local government to continue with taking actions to protect the aquifer.

In response to questions about delineation of the designated aquifer area, EPA explained that the aquifer is charaterized by divergent ground water flow from a high ground water table elevation in the interior area of the aquifer. The area along the northwest section of the aquifer is characterized by bogs, wetlands, meandering streams, flat topography, and low ground water gradient. The boundary issue that was raised at the hearing related to the precise placement of the boundary line in specific localized areas. Following explanation of the basis for delineation, no further comments were made. The boundary, as originally proposed in the petition, is the boundary that is delineated in this designation. EPA responded to comments which expressed concern and confusion that the effectiveness of sole source aquifer designations is limited because only a small part of the development in the designated area will receive federal financial assistance. EPA recognized the limited applicability of the program and acknowledged that a comprehensive ground water protection program must include land use planning and management at the state and local levels as well. The DEP and EPA noted, however, that Massachusetts state regulations for underground storage tanks, site assignment for new solid waste landfills, and for hazardous waste facilities, give added protection by restricting these facilities when sole source aquifers are involved. Also, SSA designation often brings a new awareness locally for protecting resources.

The Town of Plymouth opposed the designation of the aquifer. In its opposition, the Town asserted that the designation will result in more government overview and interference, will delay certain public road improvements to route 44, and will favor an ocean outfall over a land based treatment option in planning for a sewage treatment facility. EPA agreed that the designation would add another layer of review for impacts affecting the quality of ground water in the aquifer. It is noted that such aquifer reviews generally do not hinder or delay projects because the reviews conducted on large projects are in conjunction with federal Environmental Impact Statements (EISs), environmental assessments, or state Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs). EPA routinely participates in the scoping and assessment of EISs and EIRs for major projects. This has been the case in the route 44 improvements. On smaller projects, reviews are generally less complicated, take three to six weeks, and do not cause undue delay. It is also noted that protection of public health is the principal concern of the program. Project delays that result in the protection of public health are favored over project expediency.

In addition to the concern that designation causes local project delays, the Town took the position that a sole source aquifer review is an unnecessary layer of review because local government can "protect its own." At the hearing, EPA observed that if local authorities, state and federal environmental and regulatory agencies are all carrying out their statutory and regulatory duties, the sole source aquifer review will be minimal, and in most cases will be incorporated into the existing environmental review processes.

*32140 In response to the issue that designation of a sole source aquifer would likely favor an ocean outfall option over a land based discharge option in Plymouth's sewage treatment planning, it is noted that the designation would not necessarily prelude a land based discharge. It is further noted that for land disposal to be allowed, Massachusetts ground water discharge permit regulations would probably require advanced treatment and effluent that would meet Massachusetts drinking water standards. As such, the performance standards would be determined under state regulations and scrutinized by EPA in their implementation.

The Town of Plymouth also expressed concern over the apparent lack of definitive guidelines from EPA governing the sole source aquifer program resulting in confusion and uncertainty. It is noted that EPA has clear and definitive Petitioner Guidance, Reviewer's Guidance, regulations concerning the implementation of the program at the Edwards aquifer, Region II post- designation guidance, relevant applicable state performance requirements, risk assessment capabilities, and others. Notable letters of support were received from state and local governemnts and representatives, water suppliers, environmental organizations and residents. Reasons given for support include: (1) The nearly total dependence of the residents on the aquifer's ground water for their drinking water supply; (2) the fact that there are no reasonably available alternative sources of water, and that proper boundaries have been delineated; (3) growth and development in the Plymouth-Carver region threaten the continued purity of the resource; and (4) the Plymouth-Carver Aquifer's designation as a sole source aquifer would heighten public awareness of the vulnerability of the resource and would encourage further protection efforts.

VII. Findings

Given the information before me, all criteria for designating the Plymouth- Carver aquifer as a sole source aquifer have been met, and the region's aquifer is a resoruce that fully deserves efforts to protect it.

Dated: July 31, 1990.

Julie Belaga,

Regional Administrator.

[FR Doc. 90-18457 Filed 8-6-90; 8:45 am]


55 FR 32137-01, 1990 WL 329590 (F.R.)