Making it easier and quicker to optimize nitrogen-reduction in residential septic systems

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The Coalition has won a $75,000 grant to support testing a faster and more efficient approach to monitoring the effectiveness of nitrogen-reducing septic systems.

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The pilot project will be run in West Falmouth where the Coalition has facilitated installation of 30 of these highly effective systems over the last four years.

“The impact of what we learn in this study will go well beyond West Falmouth,” said Maureen Thomas, water resources specialist for the Coalition. “The information that we collect will be directly transferable throughout the Buzzards Bay watershed and to other coastal communities working on tackling the nitrogen pollution problem by implementing nitrogen-reducing septic systems.”

The Coalition’s grant is among the first eight awarded through the National Estuary Program Coastal Watershed Grant initiative, which is administered by Restore America’s Estuaries in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. More than 200 organizations applied for the award; eight proposals received funding in the program’s inaugural grant cycle. Projects that won funding promise to yield positive results locally and help inform environmental restoration efforts nationwide.

In announcing the awards, Bob Benson, acting chief of the EPA’s Partnership Programs Branch for water, said the projects that received funding will “tackle some of the most pressing environmental problems” facing the nation’s coastal estuaries. “The lessons learned from your work will be shared with other coastal resource managers and local officials and the public,” he said.

The Coalition’s project, which will be conducted in partnership with the Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center and Stony Brook University in New York, will use two new monitoring technologies—a handheld nitrogen sensor as well sensors installed remotely in each system—that track the nitrogen removal of the wastewater treatment system more quickly than traditional sampling and lab analysis. The real-time data should allow the systems to be optimized more efficiently and maximize the amount of nitrogen removed from wastewater flowing to the Bay.

Nitrogen pollution is the greatest threat to the health of Buzzards Bay. When too much is present, it fuels the growth of algae that makes the water cloudy and covers beaches and boats with slimy green muck. It also reduces oxygen levels in the water. Those effects combine to slowly kill the harbor’s underwater eelgrass beds and fish and shellfish populations. And the problem is intensified by the impact of warming ocean temperatures brought on by climate change. The ultimate goal is to shift the monitoring paradigm in order to increase the rate at which coastal estuaries like West Falmouth Harbor are restored.

Septic systems are the largest source of nitrogen pollution to Buzzards Bay. Traditional septic systems, which are widely used throughout the region, do not remove nitrogen from wastewater.

The Coalition is currently working on a variety of projects that aim to demonstrate the effectiveness of nitrogen-reducing septic systems and speed their adoption in communities where municipal sewer systems are not feasible.

Categories: On the Bay, On the Land

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