In Massachusetts, the changes to Title 5 are intended to directly address nitrogen pollution at the source to help reverse environmental degradation from septic systems that has taken place over decades. This is not a small challenge.
After learning more about the changes to Title 5, you may be wondering how you can be part of the solution. There are many ways; some big, some small. Some of the solutions may require you to change your habits, while others may require a bit of research. Almost all of the steps we’ve outlined below will require getting to know your town government, or better yet participating in it. The cost of doing nothing is unacceptable to most of us who know and love Cape Cod. Further, damaged water resources will eventually lead to significant loss of economic value for the region.
The time to change is now. By focusing on a common goal of protecting our vulnerable water resources, we can work together to affect change for ourselves and generations to come.”
–Brian Baumgaertel, Director of the Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center (MASSTC) and Senior Environmental Specialist with the Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment
Check out some our “What-if” scenarios below!
What if…you’re a homeowner with a Title 5 septic system?
The region has embarked on a multi-decade, multi-billion-dollar effort to protect Cape Cod’s fragile water resources from the effects of “standard” septic systems. Thus, most Cape Cod homes will be required to either connect to a sewer system or upgrade their standard 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 to an I/A technology 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.
What if…you just purchased a new home and it has a cesspool?
While the state septic system regulation (Title 5) allows functioning cesspools to remain in use (they’re banned for new construction since 1995), many town Boards of Health, which are tasked with drafting and enforcing local regulations at the municipal level, have passed regulations disallowing the use of even functioning cesspools. Typically, cesspools are identified during the septic system inspection that is required prior to a property transfer. In towns where cesspools are banned, either the seller would need to replace the cesspool with a compliant system prior to the sale, or there would need to be a written agreement between the seller and buyer that transfers this responsibility to the buyer (with permission from the Board of Health). In towns where cesspools are not banned, the buyer can continue to use it for as long as it continues to function properly. “If you are required to upgrade a cesspool,
depending on the specifics of your lot, you may or may not be required to use Innovative/Alternative (I/A) septic system technologies. As an example, if your lot is small (¼ acre or less), you may need to reduce the size of the leachfield so that it physically fits on your property. In many instances, a Board of Health may require that you use an I/A system as a “concession” for allowing you to use a smaller leachfield. This is called “maximum feasible compliance” in Title 5 lingo.
What if…I just bought a new home on Cape Cod?
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. 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 touch with your local health department.
What if…I’m in the process of building a new home?
It depends on where you are in the process. If you have all of your permits in hand or if you filed prior to July 7th, 2023, you should be able to continue with your project as planned. Having applied for your permits before July 7th will not necessarily protect you from having to connect to a sewer or upgrade your system in the future, however. To find out where your home falls in the town’s planning process, get in contact with your local health department.
What if…there’s wastewater infrastructure currently being built in my town. Now what?
If your town is in the process of constructing wastewater treatment infrastructure, whether that is a sewer system or I/A systems, it is important for you as a property owner to stay informed of the town’s plans. Being aware of when your property will be required to connect to a sewer or to upgrade the septic system will help you make your own personal financial plan to pay for the betterments to come. To find out where your home falls in the town’s planning process, get in contact
with your local health department.
What if…I’m considering a composting or urine-diverting toilet? How do I move forward?
First and foremost, educate yourself about the types of technology, how they work, and what kind of maintenance goes into them. Get in contact with someone who uses an alternative toilet technology to ask them about their experience. Better yet, give one a test drive! Once you have made the decision to “dive in”, your first stop should be your town’s Health Department to gather information about getting the proper permits for your project. You will likely need sign- offs from both the local health department and the town’s plumbing inspector.
What if…I’m required to install an I/A system? What does the process look like?
Currently, it is the homeowner’s responsibility to begin the I/A system adoption process by finding an engineer and vendor for site design and construction. Your local health department can provide you with a list of recommended engineers and contractors (installers, service providers, pumpers). You can also contact the Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Technology Center (MASSTC) to walk you through this process.
Barnstable County is currently working with the towns of Bourne, Falmouth, Brewster, and Wellfleet to pilot a new program called a Responsible Management Entity (RME). The role of the RME will be to work with homeowners, in a similar manner to a small utility, to navigate the I/A septic system installation process. This program will be the first of its kind.