Residents, officials weary over possible septic regulation changes

Just over two dozen homeowners descended on Dartmouth High on Wednesday night to find out about it and spread a stink proposed changes to state regulations surrounding septic tanks.

Comments were made at a briefing held by the Dartmouth Board of Health.

This summer, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection released a recommendation to update the state’s Title V regulations, which require septic tank and sump inspections before a home is sold or expanded.

According to MassDEP, about 2,700 homes connected to septic systems in Dartmouth’s watershed could be affected by the regulation change. Information sessions like Wednesday’s are being held to gather public feedback ahead of an official state decision.

During the presentation, Dartmouth Public Health director Chris Michaud began with an overview of what prompted the state to act: the Massachusetts Estuaries Project.

The project began in the early 2000s and surveyed 89 estuaries from Cape Cod to Mount Hope Bay in Fall River with the goal of providing state and local officials with the data they need to make good water pollution control decisions .

This study covers two estuaries in Dartmouth: the Slocum River and the eastern branch of the Westport River watershed.

“[And] these are huge watersheds,” Michaud said.

According to the state report 29% of the nitrogen entering the Slocum River comes from the on-site septic tank. Other important contributors are fertilizers, the Russells Mills landfill, and atmospheric deposition.

For the Westport River, septic tanks accounted for 34% of all nitrogen pollution.

As a result of the decades-long project, Michaud said, the state has identified nitrogen from septic systems as a key pollutant, though he claims it’s just one factor among many.

Still, the state believes that tackling sewage systems is the best way to limit it Amount of nitrogen flowing into water bodies.

One such option is to require that all septic systems within watersheds draining into Buzzards Bay be upgraded to “active nitrogen removal systems” within five years. Residents living in affected watersheds would also be required to disclose this information if they were to sell their property.

One of the biggest concerns was the price of the upgrade. Such systems generally cost between $10,000 and $15,000, according to the Buzzards Bay Coalition.

“Charging homeowners just seems very unfair,” said one resident.

To alleviate some of that financial burden, the state will allow affected residents to apply for low-interest loans from their local health authorities for these new systems.

However, Michaud was skeptical about how helpful the government funding would be.

“This is not free money; that’s debt,” he said. “Somebody has to borrow the money to install one of these septic systems, [but] the money has to be paid back.”

The public health official also said the state was unclear about what those new tanks would be made of.

“There is no explicit standard in these regulations,” he said.

According to Korrin Petersen, vice president of clean water advocacy for the Buzzards Bay Coalition, these systems work by converting the ammonia found in wastewater to healthy levels of nitrogen gas.

She explained that the new tanks first add oxygen to the water to create nitrogen. Oxygen is then sent to another chamber of the tank to be absorbed by “good bacteria” that are being grown in that environment.

“That turns your nitrogen problem into nitrogen gas,” Petersen said.

The other option the state would offer would be for the city to enter into an agreement with communities that share these watersheds to independently address nitrogen pollution. Municipalities have 20 years to achieve these goals.

In this case, it would be New Bedford and Westport – communities that Michaud says have “very different” influences.

“I don’t necessarily have much comfort in the fact that the watershed permitting process is a recipe for success for our community or any community,” he said. “It seems to me that we are gearing our successors to failure.”

Another complaint raised by the public health official and local residents was over Dartmouth, which was allegedly left out of the state’s decision-making process, with Michaud saying, “You don’t want to listen to me.”

State Rep. Chris Markey (D-Dartmouth), sitting near the back of the auditorium, said while the city may have been left out of things initially, MassDEP will connect him with residents “in a very direct way.” stand. To ponder.

“I will strongly advocate that while these regulations are well intentioned, they may not be the answer [the state’s] problem,” he said.

Markey also encouraged residents to check in frequently throughout the process.

“It’s going to make a difference,” he said, “to have a whole bunch of people saying things, not just one or two.”

The state will also host Zoom/in-person sessions in Lakeville on November 30, online on December 1 and in Hyannis on December 5. For more information on these hearings, see town.dartmouth.ma.us/board-health/pages/mass-dep-title-5-revisions.

Affected homeowners may also submit written comments to MassDEP via email by Friday, December 16. Emails can be sent to [email protected] and must include “Title 5 & Watershed Permit” in the subject line.

All submitted comments must include the resident’s name and contact information.

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