Half of Mashpee Residents Near Polluted Santuit Pond Fail To Pump Septic Systems
WRITTEN BY: JESSICA HILL
Published in the Cape Cod Times
The Board of Health found that about half of the houses near Santuit Pond, which has been heavily polluted from years of fertilizers and septic systems, have not had their septic systems pumped in the last 10 years.
Mashpee Health Agent Glen Harrington presented figures at a Board of Selectmen meeting Monday that showed most residents near Santuit Pond were not maintaining their septic systems as they should.
Harrington found that there were 121 septic systems within 300 feet of Santuit Pond, which has been struggling with an excess of nitrogen and phosphorus, causing harmful cyanobacteria blooms. Fifty-six of those septic systems were within 100 feet of Santuit Pond.
Out of the 121 total properties, 60 had their systems pumped in the last 10 years and 43 had been pumped in the last five years.
“It should be done every two to three years, so this shows that systems are not being maintained the way they should,” Harrington said. “If they’re year-round residences, they really shouldn’t go more than three (years).”
Nine of the 121 septic systems were cesspools, an older waste disposal system that needs to be pumped more frequently to keep its holes open for water flow, and can cause surrounding soil to become saturated to the point that wastewater is pooling at the ground surface, according to Wind River Environmental. Seven of those cesspools were within 100 feet of the pond, Harrington said. Cesspools are automatically considered a failing technique, Harrington said in the meeting.
“If they’re automatic failures, why are they still out there?” said Andrew Gottlieb, clerk for the Mashpee Board of Selectmen.
There are a total of 193 parcels within 300 feet of Santuit Pond, Harrington said. Twenty-one are vacant, leaving 172 with structures. And of those, 52 are condominium units that count as one property, bringing the total to 121 septic systems.
The Town of Mashpee has been looking for ways to improve the quality of the ponds, estuaries and rivers, and residents approved funding for a wastewater treatment facility that will decrease the amount of nitrogen entering the water bodies through septic systems — as those systems will be replaced at houses as they are hooked up to sewer.
But it will still take several years to come to fruition, and Brian Howes, who gave a presentation on a report about Mashpee’s water quality that found the water quality in the town’s water bodies was at an all-time low, estimates that it will take four to five years after the facility’s implementation for improvements to be seen.
“If there are only a few houses with very close proximity to the waterways, we need to do something sooner rather than later, not 10 years down the road,” Selectman Thomas O’Hara said. “There’s got to be a simple solution. I know nobody wants to pay for a system that’s going to be removed or not used in more than 10 or 15 years, but 10 or 15 years is a long time to go of flushing the toilet into the Santuit Pond.”
Mashpee as well as Barnstable have been sued by the Conservation Law Foundation, charging that the towns have known for decades that the nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen were the source of declining water quality and have been violating their own regulations in allowing it to continue.
The town is looking at other ways to mitigate the pollution more quickly. At its Monday meeting the Board of Selectmen authorized the town manager to use $211,791 from mitigation funds that were paid back to the town for denitrification use.
Mashpee is also following through on enforcing septic system inspections within 300 feet of the pond to make sure they are being pumped, which was first recommended in a 2010 diagnostic report on Santuit Pond, Harrington said.
An order letter will be sent to homeowners requiring an inspection and pumping of the system, and the homeowners will have 30 days to respond, Harrington told the Board of Selectmen.
Gottlieb asked why the town is just now getting around to enforcing inspections, and Harrington said he did not know about the report until two years ago.
The town will also conduct experiments with new technology for removing algae and algae toxins, one being called Aquaflex. Town staff will take a small portion of the Santuit Pond and conduct a test to see if the technology will work before deciding whether to use it for the whole pond.
Aquaflex is an open-cell foam that is suspended in the water where it allows the cyanobacteria to adhere to it. The foam stays in the water and when removed takes some of the cyanobacteria with it, according to a letter Harrington wrote to the Board of Selectmen. The owner of the technology will donate the materials necessary to the town, Harrington said, so it will not cost anything.
Mashpee Board of Health Chair Brian Baumgaertel said at the meeting that the septic systems are only one part of the problem.
Residents have poor land-use practices around the ponds, he said, including using fertilizers that have phosphorus to make their lawns green, and cutting down trees all the way to the waterline.
“Even if we shut off all the septic systems right now today, we’d still have a problem because we have a latent load of phosphorus in the ponds,” Baumgaertel said.