A nationally recognized voice is advocating for clean water off of Southeastern Massachusetts.

Sam Waterston, best known for playing Jack McCoy on 19 seasons of NBC's Law & Order, narrates a new video released by Buzzards Bay Coalition. His famously friendly tone is tempered by urgency as he targets the bay's No. 1 enemy.

"We all want and need a healthy bay but there is a threat so widespread and right under our feet that we can't see and it's slowly killing our fish, shellfish and clear waters," the Academy Award-nominated actor says over images of people and pets enjoying life outdoors on the SouthCoast.

"What is this mystery culprit? Nitrogen."

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In the right amounts, nitrogen is a great fertilizer for plants but the waters off of Southeastern Massachusetts are struggling due to "too much of a good thing," Waterston notes. Nitrogen pollution causes an excess of algae beneath the waves, choking off the marine life around it.

"For such a tiny atom, nitrogen sure can cause a lot of damage to the bay and its more than 30 harbors, coves and tidal rivers," Waterston says.


Wastewater runoff from septic systems is the biggest offender, according to the coalition. More than 50,000 homes in the watershed use Title V septic systems, which the coalition says do nothing to remove excess nitrogen. The coalition is pressing for communities to hook up more homes to municipal sewer systems or to have homeowners replace septic systems with nitrogen-reducing models. The latter proposal has divided some folks on the SouthCoast over the last few years because of the potential costs associated with replacement.

READ MORE: Sam Waterston Spotted Enjoying Breakfast in Downtown New Bedford

Waterston volunteered his time for the 4-minute video. The Cambridge-born star has been a part-time Mattapoisett resident for many years, so he knows Buzzards Bay well. The 83-year-old announced earlier this year that he was leaving Law & Order but that he planned to keep working. 

“We’re so grateful that Sam contributed his time and talent to help us spread the word about this important issue," Buzzards Bay Coalition President Mark Rasmussen said in a news release. "We know that people want to be better stewards of our local environment, and the goal of this video is to give them more information on what that might look like."

Westport native Chloe Mangold, a film and television producer in California, edited the project.

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