Kiss 22% of Your Home’s Value Goodbye: Property Values Drop When Water Pollution Rises

In recent posts we’ve documented the decades-long decline of Shoestring Bay and other Cape estuaries due primarily to the effluent coming from our Title 5-approved septic systems. The stuff that comes out of our home water waste lines winds up in our waterways, creating nutrient (nitrogen/phosphates) overload and habitat degradation. If the thought of year-round red/blue/green algae blooms and dead fish bobbing on the water hasn’t persuaded you to lobby the Town of Barnstable to accelerate and amend its 30-year strategy, maybe the bottom-line impact will. Because the longer it takes to remediate the nitrogen problem, the lower the value of our Cape homes

Negative Correlation Between Water Pollution & Home Sale Prices/Cape Cod Commission 2017

In 2017 the Cape Cod Commission published a paper[1] showing that nitrogen pollution of waterways has a whopping 22% negative correlation with the sales price of our homes.

For every 1% increase in nitrogen, property sale prices were lower by .61%. [Download the Report]

This profound negative impact on real estate values is due in great measure to the lax administration of the Title 5 program on the Cape. Title 5-approved systems were never designed to prevent nitrogen overload and they were never meant to be installed in “nitrogen sensitive areas,” such as those that exist across the Cape. So if you’re wondering who to blame for this fiasco, look to the folks who ignored the looming nitrogen pollution disaster: licensed civil engineers and your local Board of Health. They’re the ones that approved the application of Title 5 septic systems within nitrogen sensitive areas.

A 30-Year Plan Just Won’t Cut It
Despite the fact that our waterways are imperiled and our home values are at risk, The Town of Barnstable has developed a 30-year plan to swap Title 5-approved septic systems for sewering, where possible. Some parts of Barnstable may have the luxury of waiting 10, 20, or 30 years for sewering to arrive. But Shoestring Bay, Popponesset Bay, and several other Barnstable waterways don’t even have five years left before habitat collapse. That’s why we support the Conservation Law Foundation’s suit against the MA Dept. of Environmental Protection (MA-DEP) and the Towns of Barnstable and Mashpee, seeking a “temporary suspension of permitting of conventional septic systems” when they are part of a new construction, major renovation, or replacement of an existing system.

We Need a Five-Year Plan Now
We at Save Our Shoestring are proposing a five-year plan to address the immediate need for halting nitrogen overload in the Cape’s most damaged waterways.

  1. Halt the licensing and approval of all Title-5 septic systems in nitrogen-sensitive lands within 1.5 miles of any threatened Barnstable waterway. A moratorium must be enacted immediately without exception including dis-allowing the “grandfathering” many towns now permit
  2. Grant an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to High-Performance Innovative-Alternative Septic System (HPIA) Technologies, which reduce nitrogen content in effluent by over 90 percent. The order would come from the MA-DEP in cooperation with the Barnstable County Board of Health.
  3. Extend the Barnstable County Board of Health’s low-interest loan program to help fund expensive HPIA systems so property owners have a way to continue to use their residences.
  4. Mandate that properties have either sewering (CWMP) or HPIA (under the EUA), no exceptions. This would include new builds, septic system replacements, or major renovations.
  5. Size HPIA systems on the basis of the number of bathrooms, not bedrooms.
  6. Require those opting for the HPIA systems to install remote metering/reporting systems to ensure system compliance to a strict new standard of < 10 MG/L Nitrogen being sent to the leaching field.  Non-compliance would be fined by Town Board of Health entities. Collected fines could bolster both the monitoring and administration of the HPIA programs as well as contribute to the CWMP plan and infrastructure/staffing.

Those of us who live on or near one of these damaged waterways, or enjoy their benefits, can’t wait decades for help while the nitrogen pollution rises and our property values fall. The potential 22% hit to our home’s sale price is significant to a Town that relies on real estate taxes for community services. Failure to implement an emergency plan to stop the pollution will result in a flood of angry property owners seeking real estate tax abatements. No one wants that to happen. So please, Barnstable Town Leaders, accept the facts, listen to our pleas for help, and take action now!

[1] “Water Quality and Cape Cod’s Economic Future: Nitrogen Pollution’s Economic Impact on Homes and Communities”, Mahesh Ramachandran, Ph.D., Environmental Economist, Cape Cod Commission

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