Rules & Regs: Massachusetts May Require Nitrogen Technology for All of Cape Cod

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Indications are Massachusetts will change its Title 5 onsite rules to require nitrogen-reducing technology on all of Cape Cod. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has contacted town managers in advance of a general notice about the change, reported Cape Cod news organizations.

Changes may require upgrades of all existing systems within five years after the regulation takes effect, which may give towns the option of applying for a watershed permit, allowing them to tailor solutions to their particular circumstances.

Four communities already hold a single watershed permit for Pleasant Bay on the eastern end of Cape Cod. The permit was issued in 2018 and was the first in the state. It requires the communities to cut nitrogen flow into the bay by 39,022 pounds (17,700 kg.) in 20 years. Three communities are building sewer systems. The fourth is reducing fertilizer use on its municipal golf course, improving drainage, considering alternative technologies and planning a small treatment system.

Stanley Andrews, who chairs the board of health in Bourne, told the Cape Cod Times that some Title 5 change by year’s end is a good possibility if for no other reason than the lawsuit filed last summer against the state and the towns of Barnstable and Mashpee.

In the lawsuit, the Conservation Law Foundation asked a court to suspend permits for conventional septic systems in the two towns until they develop a plan to stop nitrogen pollution. For years the towns and state have known that nitrogen pollution from septic systems is fouling waterways, the foundation argues in its suit. By continuing to approve permits, the towns and state have allowed pollution to continue and thus have violated state law, the suit asserts. Instead of conventional septic systems, the foundation wants advanced treatment units to be required when onsite systems are installed or when properties are transferred.

 Thirty watersheds on Cape Cod have nitrogen total maximum daily loads approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Brewster Town Administrator Peter Lombardi told that the process of changing Title 5 is only beginning. A meeting with town officials would be followed by a public comment period, he said. 


Anne Arundel County notified installers that the state has ordered changes for onsite permits and applications in the county.

Site plans will now be required for all repair applications. The county Health Department will conduct a perc test as it has done, and will then send a letter to the property owner, applicant and contractor recommending minimum onsite requirements. It will be up to the property owner to decide who will create and submit the site plan.

Site plans must be signed and dated and should include information such as locations of nearby structures, locations of wells within 100 feet of the property, swimming pools, layout and design of the proposed system, rights of way and easements, and anything that could impede installation of a system.

Permits for conventional tanks will no longer be automatically issued, and the process for perc and dry wells will also change.


Directors of the Sonoma County Water Agency voted in June to conduct a study of wastewater treatment options for properties along the lower Russian River. Homes and businesses in Monte Rio and Villa Grande rely on onsite systems that don’t meet current standards and could discharge untreated effluent into the river and its tributaries, according to a press release from the county.

Brelje & Race Consulting Engineers of Santa Rosa will conduct the $425,000 study of options including one or more alternatives recommended by a citizens advisory panel and representatives of local governments. The next step would be a pilot project to begin upgrading onsite treatment.

Sonoma County supervisors will consider revisions to the county’s onsite treatment manual in early 2023. Information about the proposed changes is available at


The chair of the Hood County Republican Party lost a court fight over maintenance of his onsite system. A judge found Steve Biggers has not been maintaining his system in accordance with county regulations.

Biggers has said publicly that he believes trained homeowners should be able to maintain aerobic systems instead of being forced to contract for the service, reported the Hood County News in Granbury, Texas. Court testimony showed Biggers had taken training from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

Some counties accept that training as sufficient, but Hood County requires homeowners to complete a more intensive two-day training through the Texas Onsite Wastewater Association if they want to maintain their own systems.

County Attorney Matt Mills said the court decision means that if Biggers doesn’t comply, the county could consider asking a judge to hold him in contempt of court. 


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