Twenty homeowners in West Falmouth are installing alternative wastewater treatment methods on their properties, which they hope will cut down the amount of nitrogen flowing into West Falmouth Harbor.
With a $250,000 grant awarded the town through the Buzzards Bay Coalition in October 2014, innovative/alternative septic systems, otherwise known as I/A systems, are being installed on homeowners’ properties in West Falmouth. Each homeowner was awarded $10,000 toward the cost of installing an I/A system. The remaining $50,000 will go to the town to test nitrogen levels in wastewater being treated through the new systems.
The 20 homeowners volunteered not only to have the I/A systems installed, but also to pay out-of-pocket expenses associated with hooking up the new systems.
“That’s very important,” Anastasia K. Karplus, a consultant with the town’s water quality management committee, said of the homeowners’ willingness to test the new systems. “These residents are heroes to put the effort and money in to do their part to help the harbor.”
Korrin N. Petersen, senior attorney for the Buzzards Bay Coalition, said some homeowners that are installing the I/A systems live as close as 54 feet from the harbor. She said while nitrogen load is an issue facing all Falmouth waterways, West Falmouth Harbor has been particularly affected given its proximity to the town’s wastewater treatment facility.
“Nitrogen from other parts of town is being imported into the harbor,” Ms. Petersen said. “Upgrading these septic systems is a way of reducing that nitrogen load.”
All homeowners are expected to be hooked up to new systems by late spring, Ms. Karplus said. Homeowners each chose an I/A option that was suitable for their home. Many are installing a two-tank system, where wastewater is separated from solid waste and denitrified in a separate tank before it empties into a leach field.
William H. Heald, a longtime West Falmouth summer resident, is among the first of the homeowners to have an I/A system installed. Mr. Heald had a two-tank system installed at his summer home on Old Dock Road last June in place of a cesspool, while he also had a green toilet installed that reduces the amount of water flushed into the tank.
“Everything stays inland instead of flowing out toward the harbor,” he said, adding that there is no smell or maintenance associated with new toilet and tanks.
Robert S. Kretschmar, a resident of Burgess Street, also has a cesspool in his backyard. Faced with the choice of upgrading to either a traditional Title V system or an I/A system, he opted for a two-tank system, which he expects to have installed in the spring. Mr. Kretschmar estimates that he paid $15,000 above the $10,000 offered through the grant to have a contractor hook up his system.
“Sia and Korrin gave us a lot of guidance on how to install it,” he said. “Buying a septic system that has a bit of a price tag to it, it’s a bit daunting.”
Mr. Kretschmar, who swims and sails in the harbor during the summer, said despite the cost and his unfamiliarity with the technology, an I/A system was worth trying out for a chance at improving water quality in the harbor.
“It’s a resource we want to protect,” he said. “We want to be a good neighbor.”
Not all homeowners are using the two-tank method. Molly N. Cornell is having a holding tank installed on a summer home she owns with her cousin on Old Dock Road, which she said will need to be emptied twice a year. Ms. Cornell is also receiving grant money to install a nitrogen reduction system in the backyard of her home on Shapquit Bars Road. The system is made up of man-made rocks that produce bacteria that denitrifies wastewater as it flows through the system, which she said is roughly the size of four refrigerators.
“It’s a very simple way to treat wastewater, which is why I chose it,” Ms. Cornell said, adding that the system is more affordable than other I/A options. “It’s like a big science experiment.”
Ms. Karplus said the town will do a year’s worth of monthly testing beginning this spring. The town can apply for additional grant money through the coalition if it decides to do additional testing on the I/A systems, Ms. Petersen said.
The effects on water quality in the harbor have been noticeable for the last 10 years, Ms. Cornell said, citing issues such as murky water and a lack of eelgrass and algae growth. She is hopeful, however, that methods such as the I/A system will put the town on a path toward a workable solution to the issue of water quality in Falmouth.
“I’m hoping I’ll see some change in my lifetime, but I’m thinking ahead to the next generation,” she said.