Rules and Regs: Complaints Arise From Proposed Stricter Onsite Regulations in Massachusetts

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Proposed changes to the Massachusetts Title 5 onsite rules were met with opposition from the public and local government officials over the timeline and cost of the proposed rules that would designate nitrogen-sensitive areas.

Towns in targeted areas would have to upgrade to nitrogen-reducing systems within five years after the state Department of Environmental Protection regulation is finalized. Towns would have to use the best available technology, but that could include nontraditional technologies such as permeable reactive barriers filled with wood chips to remove nitrogen as water flows through. Towns may also be able to apply for watershed permits, which would extend the deadline for upgrades to 20 years.

Local officials and some residents said they were dismayed at the possibility of imposing so much cost on people within such a short time.

Two state legislators, Rep. Chris Markey, D-Dartmouth, and Sen. Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford, wrote a letter asking the department to slow implementation of the proposed rules, and they questioned the evidence behind it. In Dartmouth, they wrote, only 29% of total nitrogen in the Slocum River is from onsite systems, while in the Westport River onsite contributes only 34%. The rest is from private industry such as composting, they wrote. 

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Rules are changing for inspection reports and payment in Mashpee, Massachusetts, following a vote by the board of health. Both must now be submitted to the department within 30 days after inspections, reported The Enterprise of Falmouth, Massachusetts. Homeowners must pay for the town’s review of their inspection, and if payment is not submitted within 30 days, there will be no review, and the inspection will have to be repeated.

The town will also no longer accept hand-drawn sketches from installers. They must now submit as-built diagrams.


The state provided another round of funding to low- and moderate-income residents who need to repair or replace onsite systems.

Eligible residents were required to have a failed or inadequate onsite wastewater system, own and live in a single-family residence or a multi-family building with up to four units, and have an annual household income less than $80,835.

Money for the work came from the American Rescue Plan Act and will pay for about 150 to 200 projects. The $5 million in first-round funding is now being distributed to more than 180 homeowners.

More information is available on the state website:


The state has approved $2.13 million from the Bay Restoration Fund so counties can upgrade onsite wastewater systems to reduce nitrogen discharges. Nitrogen is one of the more serious pollutants in Chesapeake Bay, and the funding will affect 18 counties, news reports said.

Washington State

The Asotin County Public Health District is considering new rules for onsite systems. Under a proposal, lots less than 12,500 square feet will have to meet specific standards before a septic system is allowed. Also, systems will have to be inspected when a property is sold. The intention is to add teeth to rules, Colling Jurries, the environmental health specialist for the district, told the Lewiston Tribune, of Lewiston, Idaho.

About 60% of the county’s population uses onsite systems, and homeowners will be encouraged to keep records of drainfield maps with the health district.


Haulers may see a significant increase in fees to dump septage at the wastewater treatment plant in McComb, Mississippi. City Administrator David Myers is proposing $40 per thousand gallons instead of the current $7.

Myers said he thought about increasing the cost after learning a hauler was driving the 81 miles from Richland to dump at the McComb plant.

“The McComb wastewater treatment plant is only one of the few that allows this type of dumping so that’s to our advantage,” he said, according to the Enterprise-Journal of McComb. “That’s the reason why they were coming is we had some of the lowest prices in this area to dump septic and other stuff.”

Myers said the city isn’t making much money because the fee is so low. “I think that now we’re going to generate a lot more,” he said. “We’re doing a service for these folks allowing them to come and dump in our plant.”


The owner of a septage hauling company was sentenced to 6 months in jail and fined $755 for illegally applying septage to farm fields. In December 2020, the Saginaw County Health Department received reports of trucks emptying septage onto fields, said a story from WNEM News in Saginaw. The company owner said the trucks were spreading water from underground tanks, but health inspectors found septage waste where the trucks had been. In April 2021 the owner was charged with a misdemeanor count of land applying septic waste. In September 2022 he pleaded guilty.

The health department said the company had been investigated for the same issue in May 2020. The news report did not name the hauling company or the owner. 


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