Conservation Law Foundation tackles septic tanks in latest lawsuit


BARNSTABLE – In a lawsuit filed last week, the Conservation Law Foundation got right to the heart of Cape Cod’s sewage problem: septic tanks.

About 80% of Cape Cod properties rely on septic systems, which are licensed under Title 5 regulations of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. But Title 5 systems are not necessary to remove nitrogen and phosphorus, the main contaminants causing the rampant growth of algae and degradation of water quality in our coastal and inland water bodies.

Clean waters:CLF sues Barnstable for pollution in Lewis Bay

The lawsuit filed in Barnstable Superior Court on Wednesday accuses the State Department of Environmental Protection and the towns of Barnstable and Mashpee of knowing for decades that these nutrients were the cause of the decline in the quality of water and violated their own regulations by allowing it to continue. .

The lawsuit is asking the court for a temporary suspension of the authorization of conventional septic systems when they are part of a new construction or the replacement of an existing system. He also wants the court to suspend the approval of existing systems during transfers of ownership.

“Title 5 says that the direct or indirect discharge of effluent into Commonwealth surface waters is prohibited,” said Christopher Kilian, vice president of strategic litigation at the CLF. “The lawsuit points out that DEP and the cities ignored Title 5 requirements … for years by authorizing thousands of (septic) systems that caused this (sewage) problem.”

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Kilian said that allowing conventional septic systems and allowing them to be installed while developing large city-wide plans that span decades, ignores the fact that cities allow nitrogen and phosphorus to continue to accumulate in groundwater which eventually reaches ponds and coastal areas. water places.

The CLF wants the DEP and the cities to require the installation of innovative technologies when installing or replacing septic tanks or when transferring ownership.

The lawsuit accuses the state and cities of being required by law to stop pollution and that by allowing septic tanks “they allowed more pollution.”

“Unfortunately, rather than stopping the problem, the DEP and the cities continue to approve and license systems known to pollute and not work in Cape Town,” Kilian said.

CLF has targeted Barnstable and Mashpee over polluted water bodies

CLF has focused on Barnstable and Mashpee due to several compromised water bodies such as North, West and Cotuit Bays, Lewis Bay, Popponessett Bay and freshwater ponds that have experienced toxic algal blooms. Additionally, CLF has already sued Barnstable in federal court earlier this year, alleging that its water pollution control facility needed a federal discharge permit under the Clean Water Act because the waters treated waste dumped in the ground reach Lewis Bay.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday asks defendants to develop a five-year plan, using a consent decree, to upgrade all septic tanks that drain into the coastal waters of Mashpee and Barnstable, south of the Cape, and that none successful installation, modification or inspection is not allowed until the plan is developed.

Mashpee Selectman Andrew Gottlieb, who is also executive director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, feared the litigation would complicate wastewater management plans cities are developing or implementing. This spring, Mashpee voters approved $ 54 million to build a wastewater treatment facility as part of Phase 1 of their wastewater treatment plan.

Andrew Gottlieb

Gottlieb said alternative technologies for removing nitrogen from septic systems have not developed to the point where they lower the amount in effluent enough to meet the amounts required by the state under approved plans. Plus, he said they don’t deal with phosphorus, which is the main driver of algae growth in ponds and rivers.

“It would increase the cost to the individual owner without any particular environmental benefit,” Gottlieb said. “In my opinion, this reflects a misunderstanding of the local conditions on the ground and what is needed to address this issue. The Conservation Law Foundation needs to go back and do its homework and find out what needs to be done and what technology is available. “

Gottlieb was concerned that litigation would tend to extend the timeframe for implementing solutions.

“The City considers CLF’s legal claims in these lawsuits to be unfounded and intends to aggressively defend against them,” Barnstable communications director Lynne Poyant wrote in a press release Thursday.

Lynne Poyant

City Manager Mark Ells said in the press release that Barnstable is “committed to doing everything in our power to keep the waters around Cape Town healthy”.

Ells said they are enforcing Title 5 regulations and their Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan (CWMP) has been approved by the DEP.

“By implementing the CWMP, Barnstable will achieve the nitrogen reduction requested in the Total Maximum Daily Load documents (determined by the scientists of the Massachusetts Estuaries Project) and developed by the (DEP) and approved by the Federal Agency for environmental protection, ”Ells wrote in the press release.

A DEP spokesperson said his agency was reviewing the lawsuit.

“MassDEP continues to work with local Cape Town officials and stakeholders to ensure that timely action is taken to address the region’s water quality issues by developing solutions that work for their communities,” said declared the spokesperson of the DEP.

Emergency needed to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus

But Kilian said it was imperative to act now and not let nitrogen and phosphorus continue to build up in groundwater, while pursuing longer-term solutions.

“It’s time to turn off the tap, it’s time to stop the madness,” Kilian said, adding that even though the nitrogen removal technologies did not meet the requirements of approved sanitation plans, it meant always less contamination flowing into groundwater.

“It seems foolish to me to prevent the use of systems that can reduce nitrogen, even if it is imperfect, (and to continue) to use systems that do not reduce nitrogen at all,” said Kilian.

Requiring nitrogen removal technology from on-site septic systems would reduce the contaminant load in areas that would see no sewage improvement for decades, if at all, under approved plans, a- he declared.

Negotiations with cities and the DEP over how to deal with existing and new septic systems are what CLF hopes to see rather than a court order.

“I hope we will continue to see progress and have a productive dialogue with the cities and the Ministry of Environmental Protection,” Kilian said.

Follow Doug Fraser on Twitter: @dougfrasercct

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