Title V is not enough to protect White Pond
Updated: Nov 18, 2022
We've heard multiple times from Town officials and local developers that Title V is their rationale for why their projects are safe for White Pond and should be approved. While Title V is the legally required minimum, Friends of White Pond has confirmed that it is insufficient to protect White Pond water quality. It is time for the Town of Concord to establish a higher standard of care.
The State of Massachusetts Title V code covers "Standard requirements for the siting, construction, inspection, upgrade and expansion of on-site sewage treatment and disposal systems and for the transport and disposal of septage." Here's a link to the full regulation.
Well functioning Title V septic systems are designed to leach phosphorus and nitrogen (referred to as "nutrients") into soils. When that soil is near a water source, that's where the phosphorous and nitrogen go. A 2020 research paper by researchers at Paul Smith's College on Walden Pond and White Pond found that compared to Walden, White Pond suffers from harmful inputs: "Together, the combined effects of fisheries management, nutrient enrichment, and climate change have contributed to a stepwise evolution of phytoplankton assemblages that has pushed White Pond into successively higher trophic states." To paraphrase, the more bad stuff we put into the pond, plus the effects of climate change, the faster it will die.
The Town of Concord must move off of good, functioning Title V septic systems for the future life of White Pond. It's great and it's the law that developers and homeowners have Title V approved septic systems, and Title V is better than nothing. Still, these septics are releasing damaging levels of phosphorus and nitrogen into the watershed..
There are three possible solutions in the short term. The first is that the Town of Concord can recognize that Title V is not enough. Community residents have already found that wastewater treatment technologies being tested on Martha's Vineyard and Cape Code can remove enough phosphorus and nitrogen to make a difference to watersheds. Why not mandate this technology around water sensitive areas here?
Second, it's time to ask developers to pay their fair share to create effective sewage treatment for the White Pond area. It's going to be expensive no matter what. There's no reason to give developers a free pass to creating homes that will sell for way over $1 million with Title V septics that leave phosphorous and nitrogen leaching into the soil.
Third, the White Pond watershed can be recognized as a Nitrogen Sensitive Area (NSA). The MA Department of Environmental Protection already knows this designation. In an October 2020 presentation, stakeholders advocated that:
DEP is currently authorized under Title 5 to identify Nitrogen Sensitive Areas (NSAs). Designation of these areas requires adoption through a change to the Title 5 regulations and the Mass Surface Water Quality Standards [SWQS] (314 CMR 4.00).Current regulations limit systems in NSAs to 440 gpd/acre. Allow DEP to designate NSAs without the need for regulatory changes to Title 5 and SWQS.
If the Town of Concord needs justification to do more than approve Title V septics, the NSA designation may be one way forward. One way or another though, Title V is not a friend to White Pond. It's time to stop using it to say that everything is alright in local building projects.