Q: I currently own a home with a functioning Title 5 Septic System. Will I be required to upgrade?
A: It depends on two factors: 1) whether your town pursues a Watershed Permit for households in a natural resource nitrogen sensitive area, and 2) whether your local approving authority required upgrades.
You may be required to upgrade your septic system if your home is located in a designated natural resource nitrogen sensitive area and your town does not opt to pursue a Watershed Permit. Watershed Permits allow towns to apply a suite of nutrient-reduction strategies and technologies to meet water quality goals in nitrogen sensitive areas. If towns opt not to pursue a Watershed Permit before July 2025, homeowners will be required to upgrade within a 5-year time frame. Your local approving authority, typically your town’s Board of Health, may still require you to upgrade as part of a Watershed Permit. If you already have an I/A septic system that was installed in the last 10 years, you will not be required to upgrade until this system fails or unless your local approving authority requires it.
Even if you are not located in a newly designated nitrogen sensitive natural resource area, municipalities in Massachusetts have the authority to implement local mandates, and could require homeowners to upgrade their septic systems beyond the requirements set forth in the State Title 5 regulations.
Q: I just bought a new home on Cape Cod. Will I be required to upgrade?
A: If you just bought a home on Cape Cod, congratulations! While you may have been informed of the current status of your septic system during the purchase process, you likely didn’t receive any information on what may happen with regards to your septic system in the future. The region has embarked on a multi-decade, multi-billion-dollar effort to protect Cape Cod’s fragile water resources from the effects of “classical” septic systems. The result of that effort will be that most Cape Cod homes will be required to either connect to a sewer system or upgrade their “classical” septic systems to newer advanced technologies. It is difficult to say exactly when homeowners will be required to upgrade, but generally speaking most can expect to be faced with the prospect of connecting to a sewer or upgrading their system within the next 20-25 years. To find out where your home falls in the town’s planning process, get in contact with your local Health Department or Sewer Commission.
Q: What is a ‘Watershed Permit’?
A: Simply put, a watershed permit gives towns the opportunity to come up with a 20 year plan for reducing Nitrogen pollution.
With a watershed permit, towns may employ a range of different technologies and strategies to reduce nitrogen loading and meet nitrogen-reduction goals established by the state. An example of a traditional strategy would be the installation of a centralized sewer. A non-traditional (also referred to as ‘alternative technologies’ or ‘alternative strategies’) might include one or more of the following approaches: fertilizer reduction, inlet restoration, aquaculture or permeable reactive barriers, or installing Innovative/Alternative septic systems. You can learn about the traditional and alternative technologies and strategies that could be a part of a watershed permit by exploring the Cape Cod Commission’s technology matrix.
These changes are in the process of being implemented on Cape Cod, and currently only apply to designated nitrogen-sensitive natural resource areas (NRAs). The changes may be expanded to other regions in the future.
Watershed permits allow for “adaptive management”, acknowledging uncertainties associated with some approaches, and employing monitoring and assessment in a transparent fashion.
Q: How can I find out if my home is located in a Natural Resource Nitrogen Sensitive Area?
A: To find out if your home is located in a Natural Resource Nitrogen Sensitive Area, you can use Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s address searching tool, located here. You can also contact your town Health Department to assist you.
Q: I will be required to install one of these I/A systems. What does this process look like, and who should I contact?
A: Currently, it is the homeowner’s responsibility to begin the I/A system adoption process by finding an engineer for site design and a vendor. We anticipate there being more assistance to help homeowners navigate this process in the near future. Your town government can provide you a list of recommended engineers and contractors (installers, service providers, pumpers) to work with. Additionally, your engineer can recommend contractors they work with. You can also contact the Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Technology Center (MASSTC) to walk you through this process. Eventually, if you are in a town piloting the new Responsible Management Entity, a management utility for I/A septic systems being pilot by the County, you will work closely with MASSTC to navigate this process. These towns include Bourne, Wellfleet, Brewster, and Falmouth.
Q: What financial support is currently available to homeowners needing to finance a septic system repair/upgrade or sewer connection?
A: Currently, there are several sources of funding at the State, County, and Federal level available for homeowners to tap into for septic repairs/upgrades and sewer connections. Most of these are low-interest loan programs, while there are also tax credits and grants available depending on eligibility requirements. A list of these resources with a basic description of each program and links to their websites can be found *here*. [AR1] This list will be updated as more resources become available.
Among these resources is AquiFund, Barnstable County’s Community Septic System Loan Program providing low-to-now interest loans to single family homeowners for wastewater infrastructure projects and repairs. This program is managed by Barnstable County’s Wastewater Division. More information on this program, the application process, and eligibility requirements is available here.
For information on how to contact your town’s health department, please refer to this website
For a more detailed list of Frequently Asked Questions pertaining to the recent Title 5 regulation changes, please refer to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management’s Title 5 FAQ
insert PDF or link to the one-pager on financial resources [AR1]