We’re Done Waiting

The common refrain we hear from state and local government officials every time we plead for a moratorium on Title 5 septic installations and the immediate approval of High Performance Innovative Alternative (HPIA) septic systems is, “It’s too soon. The data is inconclusive. And IA systems aren’t good enough.”

Well, the State of Washington would beg to differ. And we would add: “It’s almost too late. The data is conclusive. And IA systems are even more effective than we first thought.” In 2014 [8 years ago!!] the Washington State Board of Health (WSBOH) focused on I/A Septic System technologies that would reduce the amount of nitrogen in effluent from septic systems. They evaluated recirculating gravel filters (RGF) of different types as well as Vegetated Woodchip RGF’s.

The results were exceptional.

State of Washington Board of Health I/A Technologies Project Results

While the WSBOH’s goal was to reach 20 mg/l of nitrogen found in effluent, the chart above shows results as low as 4.0 mg/l of nitrogen, with one example showing a 92% reduction in Total Nitrogen Removal. The I/A systems WSBOH employed were similar to the NitROE (from KleanTu Inc.) system that the Barnstable Clean Water Coalition is installing at multiple sites around Shubael Pond in Marstons Mills, MA for its I/A proof-of-concept-test.

So, enough with the foot dragging and stalling. While the water quality within Popponesset and Shoestring Bays continues its steep decline through eutrophication, the Towns of Barnstable and Mashpee continue to approve more–and larger– nitrogen polluting Title 5 Septic Systems within Nitrogen Sensitive Areas. It’s time to move beyond the 20+ year sewer infrastructure-only policy and add Innovative Alternative Septic System technology (those that remove > 90% of the nitrogen from effluent) to their comprehensive plans.  [Read Barnstable’s CWMP]

Here’s what we believe should happen immediately:

I. MassDEP must ask all Cape Cod towns to revise their comprehensive plans for wastewater management, to include:

  • Condense the timeline on all severely compromised waterways (those above their Total Daily Maximum Load-TMDL for measured nitrogen).
  • Implement clean wastewater technologies in Nitrogen Sensitive Areas adjacent (within 300 feet) of severely compromised waterways within a maximum of 10 years, with a significant completion (>50%) within the first five years.
  • Initiate an immediate freeze on all further permitting of Title 5 systems within Nitrogen Sensitive Areas, including replacement systems and new/renovation construction.

2. MassDEP must initiate an Emergency Use Authorization for Innovative High Performance Innovative Alternative septic systems that:

  • Remove >90% of the nitrogen within effluent
  • Set a maximum average emission of < 10 mg/l of nitrogen within the effluent to the leaching field

3. MassDEP must require condensed timelines within its new Watershed Permit Process to save severely compromised water quality watersheds, requiring municipalities to incorporate HPIA systems as a suitable alternative to sewer infrastructure installations that are planned on protracted schedules.

What You Can Do

Town of Barnstable
If you live in Barnstable, call or write to
Mark Ells, Town Manager
Tel: 508-862-4610

Town of Mashpee
If you live in Mashpee, call or write to
Rodney Collins, Town Manager

Tell them that the CWMP is failing to save our estuaries and that the Town needs to work with the Board of Health to approve the use of HPIA systems now. Wherever you live on the Cape, encourage your friends and neighbors to also write/call their Town leadership to urge immediate action. Community outrage is a powerful thing!

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