Enhancing Wastewater Management on Cape Cod: Planning, Administrative, and Legal Tools


July  2004

Prepared by Wright-Pierce, Teal Ltd. CLF Ventures

(with Town, County, and Cape Cod Commission staff)


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 Barnstable County and its Wastewater Implementation Committee (WIC) have funded an analysis of planning, administrative, and legal tools to improve wastewater management on Cape Cod. First, an inventory was developed of existing wastewater infrastructure, and current regulatory programs were evaluated. In the second phase, the working group identified those aspects of current programs and policies that are hurdles to more effective management. Next, the group identified specific enhancements to existing programs and proposed new programs to supplement them. In the fourth phase, those existing and potential tools were applied to four towns as case studies. Through the case studies, several important tools were fine-tuned and further developed to be available to other towns.


1. Comprehensive wastewater management planning is a lengthy and expensive. Interim measures are often adopted before planning is complete.
2. Individual enhanced treatment systems have been viewed as a panacea where nitrogen loading problems exist, and routinely required by local boards, whose members may not be aware of their limitations. These systems generally do not provide the degree of nitrogen removal that is expected, or that collectively may be needed, to protect and restore sensitive embayments.
3. Suitable sites for wastewater facilities are rapidly being developed for residential, commercial and municipal uses. The lack of timely progress in comprehensive planning may significantly limit municipal options for siting wastewater facilities.
4. Many of Cape Cod's stressed embayments receive nitrogen loads from more than one town. Coordinated planning efforts among towns are needed to ensure cost effective solutions and timely implementation.
5. Many of the satellite treatment plants on Cape Cod are privately owned and managed. These facilities are typically developed outside the municipal wastewater planning process, and are potential assets as municipal infrastructure.
6. Affordable housing (Chapter 40B) projects are not subject to locally-imposed wastewater regulations that are more stringent than state requirements. Wastewater disposal from these projects may be contrary to the region's water quality needs.
7. Towns must be careful in predicting wastewater volumes and nitrogen loading at build-out conditions, particularly with respect to seasonal occupancy and how seasonality may change in the future. There is the risk of either "under-building" or "over-building" facilities if build-out projections are not carefully prepared.
8. Towns cannot deny the application of a property owner to connect to a town sewer if that property abuts the street in which the sewer is located. Without special legislation, towns are unable to implement "checkerboard" sewer systems designed to
serve selected individual lots, especially those that cannot meet Title 5 requirements.
9. Towns typically recover a portion of the costs for wastewater infrastructure through betterment assessments. Betterments can be assessed only against those properties that are directly connected to the public facilities. Properties not connected to municipal infrastructure, even if they are sources of nitrogen loading in the watershed, cannot be charged betterments.


Towns should:

1. Accelerate comprehensive planning for wastewater management.
2. Undertake planning tasks concurrent with MEP studies, to integrate wastewater issues into local comprehensive plans, plan for affordable housing and growth centers,
implement interim water quality goals, and set up escrow accounts for the deferral of
private infrastructure expenditures.
3. Ensure coordination among town boards in requiring enhanced treatment.
4. Adopt a bylaw or regulation related to cluster systems and satellite plants which will establish design and construction standards, mandate evaluation of cluster systems, incorporate nearby sewer needs in planning, establish a town role in oversight of operations, and allow transfer of ownership to the town where appropriate.
5. Identify prospective sites for wastewater facilities using a hierarchal approach, giving first priority to disturbed sites and joint use, and considering appropriate use of open space only if other possibilities are not feasible.
6. Participate in the WIC, support its evaluation of a County-wide wastewater entity, and consider regional solutions including wastewater management districts
7. Ensure proper handling of wastewater residuals and public education on this need.

Barnstable County should:

8. Continue to support the WIC as a regional forum.
9. Continue to participate in technical and policy aspects of the MEP studies.
10. Continue to provide regional input into DEP's new regulations and policies.
11. Continue to assist the towns in identifying nitrogen sensitive areas, and identifying where watershed-based management districts should be implemented.
12. Take the lead role with the legislative delegation in amending MGL Chapter 83, Section 3 to allow checkerboard sewer systems.
13. Expand the BCDHE program of oversight of enhanced treatment systems, and work with towns to implement a license program with annual fees.

DEP should:

14. Amend its guidance on small treatment plants related to design flows and
consideration of local sewer needs.
15. Modify the groundwater discharge permit program to reduce fees and long-term costs for smaller projects, and mandate consideration of local wastewater issues.
16. Allow SRF eligibility for early planning and town acquisition of private facilities.
17. Clarify the policy on site assignment for private facilities.
18. Amend Title 5 to allow nitrogen sensitive areas as determined through local planning.
19. Support the appropriate use of innovative effluent disposal techniques.
Some of these recommendations are illustrated through case studies in Orleans, Mashpee,
Falmouth and Barnstable. As this report was being reviewed and finalized, towns, the
County and DEP have already taken action on some of these recommendations.