Innovative/Alternative Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems

Education and resources from the New England Water Environment Association (NEWEA), highlighting Onsite Wastewater Treatment System technologies that are targeting nitrogen effluent levels of <10 mg/L.   

CAPE COD’S NITROGEN LOAD

Understanding the Problem

Nitrogen from home septic systems drives over 80% of the marine water quality problems on the Cape (via NEWEA). Over 107,000 Cape homes (74%+) are not connected to a sewer system. Title 5 septic systems do not remove nearly enough nitrogen to meet the Cape Cod Commission’s Section 208 Area Wide Water Quality Management Plan objective of reducing the Cape’s nitrogen load by more than 50%.

While The Town of Barnstable has been proactive and progressive in implementing its Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan (CWMP), which will sewer upwards of 11,000 properties over the 30-year implementation timeline, the reality is technology is evolving quickly.

New technologies (nitrogen removing Distributed Innovative/Alternative [I/A] Septic Systems) are being developed to remove nitrogen at the home level, creating a pathway for protecting our marine waters, ponds, and streams from excess nitrogen loads. For property owners who aren’t anticipated to receive sewer as part of the CWMP, or who will not be eligible to connect to sewer until the 20 or 30-year mark of the sewer expansion plan, these new technologies may provide an opportunity for you to begin making an impact right now.

MassDEP Nitrogen Sensitive Areas

Approved Title 5 Innovative/Alternative Technolgies

MASSDEP MUST APPROVE ALTERNATIVE SEPTIC SYSTEMS FOR USE IN MASSACHUSETTS

Under the Title 5 Regulations (310 CMR 15.000), MassDEP must approve an innovative/alternative septic-system technology before it can be used in Massachusetts. There are 4 categories of approval:

  • General Use systems will provide a level of environmental protection at least equivalent to that of a conventional on-site system designed in accordance with Title 5.
  • Piloting is intended to provide field-testing and technical demonstration to determine if the technology can or cannot function effectively.
  • Provisional Use approval is intended for evaluation of alternative systems that appear technically capable of providing levels of protection at least equivalent to those of a standard on-site disposal system.
  • Remedial Use systems improve existing conditions at a particular facility or facilities served by a failed, failing, or nonconforming system.

Please note that MassDEP approval does not constitute an endorsement of any specific technology. In each case, the system owner must follow the inspection and testing schedule required by the approval.

To review a list of currently  MassDEP approved Title 5 Innovative/Alternative Technologies, click here.

THE NEXT GENERATION

A Look at the New Generation of Enhanced I/A Septic Systems

For property owners considering innovative/alternative technology, there is a new generation of I/A Septics Systems on the horizon. Over a half dozen vendors have been identified as having promising solutions, that are today, actively pursuing permitting and general acceptance.

These products produce nitrogen effluent levels that are significantly better than the current 19 mg/L MA standard for I/A systems, based on various levels of MASSTC testing and field reporting, in some cases equaling centralized system performance at substantial capital cost reductions. Together, and with different technologies/approaches, they open the opportunity for adding decentralized solutions in nitrogen sensitive areas where sewering will not make economic or technical sense, or in the case of the Town of Barnstable, where sewering may not be identified at all.

EPA I/A Systems Diagram

The NEWEA Innovative/Alternative Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (OWTS) Task Force has continued to educate water, environmental, and health professionals on past progress and recent developments in distributed, enhanced I/A septic systems that produce effluent Nitrogen levels at or below 10mg/L. To view the Update on a New Generation of Enhanced I/A Septic Systems Webinar, click here.

To view a Technology Comparison Chart for each company, please select from the list below:

As these vendors work towards becoming generally accepted, the Barnstable Board of Health will continue actively monitoring the technology and may make determinations about future community-wide implementation. In the meantime, if you are a resident of the Town of Barnstable who is interested in pursuing an I/A system and considering installing a new system on your property, please contact the Barnstable Health Divsion at 508-862-4644 or via email at health@town.barnstable.ma.us to learn more.

What is a Responsible Management Entity (RME)?

A Responsible Management Entity (RME) functions much like a sewer utility, but with a focused mission on managing residential Innovative/Alternative (I/A) septic systems. Its role is crucial in ensuring these systems operate efficiently, safeguarding both public health and the environment. By meticulously managing I/A systems, it becomes easier to gather valuable data to demonstrate the technology’s capacity to enhance water quality
significantly. This approach offers a dual benefit including protection of our waters and peace of mind for homeowners, allowing them to feel confident that their system is environmentally compliant and functioning correctly.

The Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center (MASSTC) is the first Septic Utility Program (SUP) of its kind dedicated to managing Innovative/Alternative systems. Its mission is to help Barnstable County communities meet their water quality and public health goals by managing Innovative/Alternative septic systems for better performance and reliability through the establishment of a flexible and equitable management utility. 

Understanding the Role of Innovative and Alternative Technologies and Barnstable’s CWMP

At the Town of Barnstable, we recognize that together we all share the same goal — protection and preservation of our water resources. While the Town continues to aggressively implement its Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan (CWMP), there is an expectation that as technology increasingly evolves and becomes regulatory approved, Innovative and Alternative (I/A) Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems will play a large role in helping us achieve this goal.

In accordance with the Barnstable’s CWMP 208 Plan Consistency Determination, the Town is required to submit an annual plan update. The CWMP Annual Report includes a fiscal year implementation summary, outreach and engagement efforts, a financial plan update, and more. Additionally, each year the Town is required to submit a variety of data sources to the Cape Cod Commission including but not limited to sewer connection data, building permit data, groundwater discharge permits, water use, and water quality data. Current CWMP Annual Reports can be found on our Reports & Documents page, here.

Furthermore, the Town is also required to submit a 5-Year Adaptive Management Plan to MassDEP. The first Adapative Management Plan is expected in 2026 and is anticiapted to include forecasting for how and when I/A Technologies may be formally introduced into the CWMP implementation plan. The Town, Barnstable Health Division, and Barnstable Department of Public Works continue to monitor I/A Onsite Wastewater Treatment Technology trends and the analysis of next generation enhanced I/A technology. 

Additional Tools for Improving Onsite Wastewater Management

As an eco-conscious property owner, you may be wondering what other tools are available to help improve your onsite wastewater management. Another resource to consider are eco-sanitation systems. From urine diversion and composting toliets, to dehydration toliet systems, there are additional innovative solutions that may help recycle nutrients appropriately.  

A COMMUNITY OF EXPERTS

A Shared Mission to Restore and Preserve Cape Cod’s Water Resources

Together stakeholders across Cape Cod are working collaboratively to reverse the decades of damage excess nutrients from wastewater have made on our coastal waters, ponds, and drinking water. From searching and scoping the latestest technologies to developing and implementing comprehensive wastewater management plans, there are many who have joined this fight.

If you’re hungry for more information, or curious about what you can do as a property owner, explore additional information from these thoughtleaders shared below:

Association to Preserve Cape Cod (APCC)

Barnstable Clean Water Coalition (BCWC)

Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center (MASSTC)

Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP)

New England Water Environment Association – Innovation Council

The Nature Conservancy

US Environmental Protection Agency

 

via Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center (MASSTC)

Stay Informed

The NEWEA Innovative/Alternative Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Task Force (I/A OWTS) works to accelerate new parcel and cluster level OWTS technologies into the market, targeting Nitrogen effluent levels of <10 mg/L. The I/A OWTS collaborates with US EPA Southeast New England Program (SNEP) which includes Rhode Island, the Massachusetts South Coast, and the islands of Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and Block Island. Ultimately, these systems will have applicability to all New England and beyond.