Septic system rules could change in early 2023, Bourne health board said

BOURNE – Health officials are bracing for a probable upgrade to the state’s Title 5 law, which governs septic systems, next January.

The change would prompt property-by-property examination of septic systems at impaired watersheds such as Squeteague/Megansett in Cataumet and Phinneys Harbor at Monument Beach where water quality needs to be improved to state and federal standards.

Health Agent Terri Guarino said her office can conduct systematic septic inspections in critical areas as long as it remains fully staffed. Board of Health Chair Stanley Andrews said he anticipates a concentrated septic effort and a defining time for the health office.

Bourne health officials are bracing for probable upgrading of the state Title 5 law next January.

Bourne health officials are bracing for probable upgrading of the state Title 5 law next January.

Andrews said a new and consequential Title 5 law remains a distinct possibility by year’s end, if only because of the Conservation Law Foundation’s suit against the state Department of Environmental Protection, Barnstable and Mashpee.

Health office expect new Title 5 to increase workload

Andrews said he expects major elements in a new law that will demand attention, structure and organization when property owners realize what they will face.

“We’ll have to see,” Andrews said June 22 during a Title 5 conversation. “Laws get written and not get passed or they change from what is first proposed, that happens. But this is a distinct possibility, and it would include (septic system) review north of the canal as well; at Buttermilk Bay but probably not Sagamore Beach.”

Andrews and Guarino said a new Title 5 law’s highlights would help towns with appropriate plans in place to battle impacts in critical nitrogen sensitive watersheds and rectify polluting issues such as old and inadequate septic systems as well as cesspools being officially declared as “failures.”

Some shoreline property owners in recent years have willingly installed new enhanced treatment septic systems and others have systems that accommodate so-called system “add-ons,” Andrews said.

Guarino, however, cautioned some properties using functioning septic systems that were installed in the early 1980s and adequately operate today cannot accommodate so-called “add-ons.”

Title 5 upgrade could mean added costs

The cost involved in any widespread need for new septic facilities will be high, but there likely will be grant money available “for people with need” and a waiver procedure would be instituted for some properties, Andrews said.

The Board of Health should meet with selectmen/sewer commissioners to discuss the next step in fighting nitrogen impacts and considering advances in septic system design as well as the financial aspects of system upgrades, Andrews said.

Select Chairman Peter Meier on June 23 acknowledged Andrews’ concerns. Beyond understanding new septic technologies and appreciating shoreline improvement, he said, “it’s going to be interesting” in terms of community acceptance of a new law “and securing funding to help people.”

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The Bourne Wastewater Advisory Committee, meanwhile, has reviewed watershed impairments documented by Environmental Partners, the town’s wastewater consultant. Members have rated community acceptance factors for ultimate septic change.

Members evaluated state-of-the-art septic system design that could be appropriate for geographically extensive impacted watersheds based on property conditions, location, density, distance from saltwater and ponds, environmental need and cost as well as political feasibility and community acceptance for new septic implementation.

Such factors come into play when considering a property need for expensive innovative alternative (IA) septic systems, the less expensive alternative systems and cluster systems that might be suitable for new or smaller subdivisions or groupings of up to six houses.

This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Bourne health board expects changes to state septic system law in 2023