Sunday, September 12, 2010

Wastewater one-question survey

UPDATED WITH NEW COMMENTS: September 13, 2010

I'm a numbers guy and when I hear $6 billion, I know it's a lot. When I hear that a sewer system is going to cost $50,000 to $80,000 per house to hook up to, you have my attention. Where do you stand on the issue of wastewater management on Cape Cod?

To gather your opinions, I created a simple, one-question survey:

Managing wastewater is a key issue for all of us living on Cape Cod, one that will be on the front burner over the next several years.Given that the cost of hooking up each household to a sewer system, on average, will be in the range of $50,000 to $80,000, how do you feel this issue should be handled?
  • The Cape should be sewered and Title 5 septic systems eliminated.
  • We should focus on known "hot spots," using septic systems elsewhere.
  • We should finish the scientific studies, then develop a plan.
  • Do nothing. The Title 5 systems are working fine.
  • Do nothing. I can't afford $50,000 to $80,000, even over 20 or 25 years.
Take the survey by clicking here.

See the results so far by clicking here.

From Randy Hunt: A couple of the comments discuss the possibility of requiring more frequent pumping of septic systems. I don't claim to be an expert on the topic, but I did play one on TV when I video'd an A Little Knowledge Is A Dangerous Thing episode about septic system monitoring. My understanding is that liquids flow through these systems and dissipate across a leaching field. It is urine that is particularly high in nitrogen content, so more frequent pumping would have a negligible effect on reducing nitrogen loading.

Here are some of the comments made by survey participants:

Perhaps better standards for inspections could be implemented.
My septic failed and my next door neighbor's passed. Same low elevation, same soil types, same ground water. - it seems they were smart enough to have the inspection done in hot weather not the wet Spring. or they hired a "sympathetic" inspector. I don't know.
Crack down on the crooked inspectors and realtors who collude.
A master plan that includes a rating inventory with from worst case failure areas, to high, medium, and low potential failure areas is necessary. Funding the sewer system needs to be handled via a number of methods including impact fees and providing incentives for donors. The Cape is not the first to have this problem. Solutions in other coastal communities should be studied, improved upon and implemented here. Thurston County, Washington has been working on a wastewater plan for many years.
It is not like we don't know how to or are not maintaining safe drinking water and acceptable habitat life quality currently.
Replacing adequately functioning septic systems, disturbing animal habitats, and further burdening existing owners are our only options? These all further an urban vs rural environment.
Where are the options to prohibit adding fertilizer to lawns or pets from living on the cape? Shouldn't we be looking at those "soft and non-structural" mitigations first.
50 to 80k, even spread over 20 years, is far too costly for the average homeowner. Half or less would be more reasonable if worked into property taxes. The study should include cost effective ways to accomplish this massive undertaking.
Your cost estimates appear to be very pessamistic. Isn't $40,000- $45,000 as an average more realistic?
NO ONE CAN AFFORD TO PAY WHAT IS CURRENTLY CIRCA 100 USD PER YEAR TO EMPTY THE SEPTIC SYSTEM. USING YOUR BEST CASE OF 50K OVER 20 YEARS IS 2,500/YR WITHOUT INTEREST AND OTHER ANCILLARY FEES AND CHARGES. A 100 YEAR CONCESSION MANAGED BY THE BARNSTABLE COUNTY/CAPE COD COMMISSION MAY BE THE BEST OPTION USING SATELLITE SYSTEMS SIMILAR TO BEST IN OPERATIONAL PRACTICE WITH MANDATED FEES NOT TO EXCEED 120 USD/YR FOR RESIDENTS. THE BUSINESS MODEL IS VIABLE WITHOUT A GOUGING FEE POLICY THAT IS THE NORM.
If the budget can cover it, septic systems should be eliminated. The cost would be spread over a much larger group thereby being less expensive to each individual. The cost could be collected from each person at the sale of their property. BUT, I am not dogmatic about this.
SOMETHING SHOULD HAVE BEEN DONE IN 1970 WHEN SEPTIC SOLUTIONS WOULD HAVE BEEN MANAGEABLE. NOW WE HAVE INSTALLED CENTRAL SYSTEMS AND ARE ASKED TO FINISH THE REMAINDER. COSTS WILL ONLY INCREASE AND OUR GREAT GRANDCHILDREN WILL BE STRAPPED ALONG WITH THE NATIONAL DEBT TO PAY.
Develop a plan once the science is peer reviewed. Maintain Title 5 sysytems as much as possible. Find the most cost efficient method to remove the nitrogen emphasizing decentralized systems as much as possible.
Avoid the perfection goals that heavily drive cost.
To be truthful, I have no idea about the wastewater situation. I quess I should do some research! I am sure it is something we should address for our future on the Cape.
Many of us probably don't have an adequate understanding of the issues. One thing, however, seems clear:there must be some way to mitigate the huge burden on individual homeowners. One might be to structure the financing to allow funds paid by individuals to be tax deductible.
measure twice cut once - we need more study
My first approach would be to examine what other, similar, areas have done. Long Island comes to mind. Long Island doesn't have a sole-source aquifer, but it has dense development in many areas, and is rural in other areas. Perhaps, since their water is pumped in, septic isn't an issue, but it might be good to know what they've done.
In order to answer this question I would need to understand the numbers, ie, cost per average household per year in new taxes. If that number is $1000 or less for 10 years, OK. if it is $5000 per year, I'll sell my house and move.

I believe a second opinion on the short 5 year study, and questionable computer model extensions being used to evolve DEP & EPA demands to sewer are NOT correct and do not reflect longer, previous studies by MBL scientists and others. Recent waffling by the CC Commission on whether or not to take the National Science Foundation up on its offer to review the models only leads to more questions if their motives are science driven.

$50,000 to $80,000 is an insane expenditure, given the state of the economy and other public needs. Nitrogen in the ocean is just not that serious a problem. Contaminants in drinking water which are causing the breast cancer epidemic should get more attention. Isn't there some less labor-intensive way to sewer a town?

The science that DEP paid for has never been vetted by an independent third party. Also, it is not at all settled that even if a town did what the DEP says should be done that there will be any improvement made in the waters. For this billions should be spent?

Until a real peer review is completed I'm not convinced that outflow from title 5 systems is the largest culprit. Nitrogen and phosphorus based lawn and farm fertilizers could be contributing as much or more. It's analogous to global warming. It's certain that people are contributing something, but, how much is unclear.

If it can be determined that certain areas (N Falmouth and related beaches) have systems that are polluting, owners should be brought into compliance even if they have to build pump-able systems at critical shore areas - owners expense..a sewer system across Cape would be another rotten State bureaucracy in time...enough!

Maybe we are broke and can't do everything that we want to. There are wants and needs and maybe this isn't a need when the country is broke and surrounded by enemies. Also the CLF suit mentions that the EPA did not consider Global Warming. That alone should demand a dismissal of the suit.

I would like to know where these problems of nitrogen loading exist, to what extent and available solutions before investing in unneeded infrastructure solutions.

I'd like to say let's take a commonsense approach to this and make sure every home has a Title 5 first and proceed from there. The studies I have read show that municipal wastewater treatment plants break nitrogen down to, on average, 5-7.5 mL N/L H20. The average Title 5 breaks nitrogen down to 5 mL/L-the same results or better. However, the environmentalists are starting to file lawsuits against municipalities for not moving forward with these plants.

Title 5 systems are doing a great job. The hoopla is thus far eco-fear without known scientific basis. Yes, complete the studies, but make sure they are valid and do not reflect the anti-PAVE PAWS type of pseudoscience all over again.

The reality is that we can't afford nor should we foolishly create an MWRA-Cape Cod. There are private de-nitrification systems that are available which remove up to 80% more N2 than standard Title V. What I can't seem to find at this point is a definitive study by a group that doesn't have a dog in the fight which concludes that we have a serious problem.

I just replaced a failed system two years ago. I'm not up for spending 50 - 80 thousand to hook up to sewer.

One size fits all is a stupid way to approach this problem.

In the past (the MMR cleanup, for example) science took a back seat to environmental campaigns, as somebody else paid. In this case we pay, so scientific data (a formal category) has a chance and actually seems to be winning in some areas. Various peer review groups have countered selectmen, state departments, commissions, even the CLF. In reserve is a large exposure to conflict of interest on the part of the campaigners.

Doing nothing is probably going to make the ultimate solution be more drastic and cost even more. Planning now will give more options.

I think that the estimates are low. Regional waste water systems would be best

Given that the average citizen cannot afford the estimated cost to hook up, I wonder if an at least temporary solution might be to require home owners to have their septic tanks emptied every two years with the waste going to a proper sewerage disposal plant, at a general cost of about $150 - $200. (Many go decades without such service.) That might drastically reduce contamination while a united Cape group could come up with a more permanent and far less costly resolution.

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