Two Town Plans to Clean Up  Oyster Pond

We hope you were able to attend the Town’s Water Quality Management Committee (WQMC) meeting regarding the Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan for the Oyster Pond Watershed held on October 5, 2019 at SEA Education. It was good to see that over 50 people attended, proof to the WQMC (the Town committee tasked for developing CWMP plans for the impacted estuaries in Falmouth) of the keen interest in the plans for the Oyster Pond neighborhood.

Here is a brief overview of the highlights of the meeting. We thought this would be helpful for both the residents who were unable to attend and the attendees. A lot of information was discussed.

Plan 5 – The “Preferred Plan” Advanced Innovative and Alternative (I/A) septic systems – 189 parcels would be required to convert their existing septic systems to an Advanced I/A in the first phase of the plan. If this first phase did not remove enough nitrogen to the needed level to return the pond to a healthy ecosystem, then an additional 44 units would be required to upgrade to an Advanced I/A in 2039. This is the Preferred Plan chosen by the Town, because they want to explore the possibility of using these advanced septic systems across a watershed for wastewater treatment. If the Town had picked the sewering option as its preferred option, then the DEP would not allow the Town to investigate using I/As.

Advanced I/A Plan map

Plan 5, the Advanced I/A plan, will be implemented in two phases. Phase 1 is the green colored area and the start date would be in 2025. If needed, Phase 2, which includes the yellow colored parcels, would start in 2040.

What a conversion to an I/A will involve depends on the homeowner’s current system. A cesspool would need substantial replacement, while a Title V septic might only need an additional component. There are three or four different types of I/A systems the Town is looking at to remove the necessary amount of nitrogen (Title Vs emit 40 mg/L while these advanced systems will need to emit less than 10mg/L). The Town would purchase the units and give them to the homeowner. The owner will be responsible for landscaping and installation costs. The Town will also need to set up a management entity to periodically test all the I/As to make sure they are working properly. Homeowners will pay the semi-annual fee for the testing and monitoring of the systems.
Unknowns –Using just Advanced I/As to lower the nitrogen pollution levels in an estuary has never been done before. Will the Mass Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) agree to this? Will they believe the Town’s Monitoring Plan is robust enough to achieve the needed levels? The Advanced I/As that can meet the very low nitrogen levels have still not been certified by the state for “General Use”. In addition, the costs for monitoring, reporting, and making any necessary adjustments to the I/As are still preliminary.
Plan 1 – The “Traditional Backup Plan” – Sewering – 189 houses would be connected to a grinder pump system since gravity sewers will not work in the topography of the area.  This plan will be used if the state DEP rejects Plan 5.
Sewer Plan for Oyster Pond

Plan 1 – The “Traditional Backup Plan” – Sewering – 189 houses would be connected to a grinder pump system since gravity sewers will not work in the topography of the area.  This plan will be used if the state DEP rejects Plan 5.

Unknowns – the sewage treatment plant is nearing full capacity and space must be reserved for other more impacted estuaries (such as Great Pond). There is also a limit on where the treated discharged wastewater can be released. The Town is working on plans for expanding the sewering capacity, but the timeline for this was not discussed. Currently, all of the effluent enters West Falmouth Harbor. Too much nitrogen has already impacted the harbor and it can’t accept any more.  A new discharge site must be found, which is difficult. Any land based discharge site will impact other water bodies.
Questions and Issues Raised by the Audience
  • Notification to Area Residents – several people were dismayed that there has not been more outreach by the Committee and the Town about these plans. The Town was urged to do much more to engage the public. Mailings and other outreach are needed.
  • What if my septic needs to be upgraded before a Plan is selected? – Once Town Meeting has funded a wastewater project for the area, the Board of Health will work with homeowners to help them until they can either hook up to a sewer or install an I/A. The WQMC will recommend that I/As which have been installed prior to 2024 and that are in compliance with the nitrogen standard be grandfathered in, even if the Town chooses a different type of I/As system.
  • A Question of Fairness – Some questioned why, in the case of I/A systems, the costs are the same per household no matter how many people live in the house. They asked why a two-person household should have the same costs for inspection and monitoring as a five-person household.  Or if someone has natural landscaping and no lawn versus someone who uses lawn fertilizer, which can add nitrogen to the pond, pays the same. This is unlike sewers, for which the annual costs are based on water usage.
  • Emerging Contaminants – Do I/As remove endocrine disrupters, flame retardants and other chemicals that are now being recognized as a public health concern? Is this is being studied and will it be considered as part of the final decision? The sole focus of the WQMC is to reduce the level of nitrogen in Oyster Pond to the mandated threshold. Consideration and reduction of other contaminants in wastewater will depend on whether there are new requirements adopted by the state or federal government prior to the final decision.
  • Timeline – By 2024, the Town and DEP will look at all the data and make a final decision on what plan to use. There are many steps along the way before that point. First the DEP will decide whether to permit the “Preferred” I/As septic system proposal. If so, then the Board of Selectmen must choose which plan to recommend. The chosen plan goes to Town Meeting for a vote; then it is placed on a Town wide ballot.
Affected homeowners in the watershed area are encouraged to stay abreast of developments and provide input at each stage of this decision-making process.
Please contact OPET if you have any questions or concerns. Much more information and a copy of the plan can be found on our web site.