Here’s a breakdown of how three states close to Long Island are finding solutions to water quality issues.
Click here to read more about how these ideas could be implemented in Suffolk County.
STATE OF MARYLAND
NUMBER OF CESSPOOLS and SEPTIC SYSTEMS DEEMED OUTDATED: 420,000
SYSTEMS DEEMED CRITICAL: 52,000
DENITRIFICATION SYSTEMS INSTALLED: 5,500
THE PLAN: The EPA’s Maryland Watershed Implementation Plan of 2010 calls for the replacement of systems in critical areas, which includes land within 1,000 feet of the mean high water line. Systems are being replaced over time and a priority order is in place.
FUNDING: Homeowners receive grant funding to pay for the denitrification system excluding certain infrastructure costs such as the septic tank. Funding is provided through the Bay Restoration Fund of 2004, which was amended in 2012 to include the Nitrogen-Reducing Septic Upgrade Program. A $60 annual fee is collected from each homeowner using an on-site system and is then added to a homeowners’ property tax or billed separately, depending on the municipality. Sixty percent of the fee goes to fund ongoing individual system upgrades, while 40 percent goes toward an Agriculture Water Quality Cost Share Program to fund conservation measures. (Homeowners connected to sewers also pay into the Bay Restoration Fund to finance necessary upgrades.)
MAINTENANCE: Homeowners are required to hold an operating and maintenance contract with annual fees.
DEVELOPMENT: The state requires advanced systems for all new residential developments and substantial renovations.
STATE OF RHODE ISLAND
NUMBER OF CESSPOOLS and SEPTIC SYSTEMS DEEMED OUTDATED: 150,000
SYSTEMS DEEMED CRITICAL: N/A
DENITRIFICATION SYSTEMS INSTALLED: 5,809
THE PLAN: The state’s Coastal Resources Management Council has developed specific ecosystem-based plans for different regions of the state. In 2007, it enacted the Cesspool Phase-Out Act, which required that all existing parcels within 200 feet of a water body or public drinking-water well to be upgraded to an advanced system or sewers by Jan. 1, 2014. Once completed, other areas will be assessed and addressed over time.
FUNDING: The state provides low-interest loans to homeowners to upgrade septic systems through a Federal Clean Water Act Revolving Fund. Federal funds are used by local municipalities to loan homeowners up to $25,000 each at 2 to 5 percent interest for a 10- or 20-year term to upgrade septic systems. If the borrower defaults, a lien is placed on the property.
THE FUTURE: The state teamed up with the New England Onsite Water Treatment Center at the University of Rhode Island to conduct pilot demonstration projects of new systems. The center is used to train local contractors how to install, maintain and operate such systems.
MAINTENANCE: To ensure that homeowners keep up with annual maintenance, the county has deployed an online tracking system.
DEVELOPMENT: To maintain a net zero increase in nitrogen loading, the state requires developers to use advanced wastewater systems in new construction. It may require builders to upgrade to another system that is in the same watershed to ensure there is no increase in nitrogen loading.
BARNSTABLE COUNTY (Cape Cod, Mass.)
NUMBER OF CESSPOOLS and SEPTIC SYSTEMS DEEMED OUTDATED: 123,000
SYSTEMS DEEMED CRITICAL: 104,000
DENITRIFICATION SYSTEMS INSTALLED: 1,600
THE PLAN: Each town has a health department authorized to mandate the installation of advanced septic systems. Inspections are required at the time of any property transfer, as well as periodically, to determine which failing systems are a priority to upgrade.
FUNDING: The state offers a tax credit for repair or replacement of failed cesspools or septic systems for up to 40 percent of the cost, not exceeding $6,000, which is paid over a four-year period at $1,500 per year. In the event of a failing system, the Barnstable Community Loan Program offers a loan at 5 percent interest for up 20 years so that homeowners can upgrade their systems.
THE FUTURE: Barnstable County Health Department created the Massachusetts Alternative Septic Systems Test Center in 1999 to allow for testing and pilot studies on advanced systems, including those capable of removing pharmaceuticals.
MAINTENANCE: To ensure homeowner compliance, the county has deployed an online data system to track maintenance and system upgrades. A $250 daily fine can be issued if owners don’t have a maintenance contract to properly maintain systems.
DEVELOPMENT: Health department officials mandate installation of advanced septic systems.
NUMBER OF CESSPOOLS and SEPTIC SYSTEMS DEEMED OUTDATED: 360,000
SYSTEMS DEEMED CRITICAL: 200,000