I appreciate the response from Camron Adibi. Yes, let’s all keep thinking and talking about this issue, so vital to our economy and our health. Together we need to truly examine and compare all the many options that are available for solving this horrendous problem. And for those with their own on-site Title 5 septic systems, it is high time to apply whichever of the various nitrogen-reducing methods we each prefer among those that already exist. What I want to emphasize is the fact that there are systems that are much less costly and invasive, and more reliable than most people are aware of.
All of us who have seen the condition of our ponds — not so long ago clean, clear, healthy — now foul, slimy and dying (not always, but rapidly getting worse) — we are grieving.
And those of us who have begun to understand the fact that DEP is now mandating town after town to drastically reduce their release of nitrogen into the coastal ponds — and who have begun to understand the number of dollars that this is projected to cost us if we follow DEP edicts — we are horrified.
Here are some numbers which we need to repeat and understand: according to information from DEP, engineering consultants and various experts, the full cost projections for reducing nitrogen pollution from septic systems range from $400 to $900 million for the Vineyard ($4 to $9 billion for part of the Cape) — somewhere between $20,000 to $80,000 per household, plus substantial annual operating costs. In addition, we repeatedly hear from those same sources that the innovative on-site systems are not sufficiently effective or reliable. DEP-related information always boils down to the same: the more centralized the system, the more reliable and less costly per pound of nitrogen removed.
This has all been reported to us by our regional newspapers, radio and TV, and at various meetings, including the Martha’s Vineyard Water Alliance.
It was almost a decade ago that a bunch of us started meeting regularly over breakfast for the purpose of discussing issues of importance to the Vineyard and beyond. At meeting after meeting, I brought up the issue of how the nitrogen from Title 5 septic systems is destroying our ponds, and threatening our health, and soon several of us decided to adopt water quality as the issue to work on. We formed a group which grew as we invited other groups to join us in our quest to protect our water. This Water Alliance has been meeting monthly ever since, usually at the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.
Over the years, this group has produced numerous pamphlets and hand-outs, videos, events and exhibits, and The Blue Pages booklet.
And much longer ago than that, Bill Wilcox and others started to produce stunning data, sounding the alarm about the septic system-induced nitrogen bomb advancing with our groundwater toward our ponds.
Yet sad to say, after all this time and worsening conditions, all these words have not yet resulted in any actual reduction of nitrogen leaching from our 12,000 on-site septic systems. After all these years, almost everyone who is not connected to central sewering continues contributing to the problem by still leaching the same enormous quantities of nitrogen into our groundwater and ponds.
Why is this? It’s not that any particular individuals are to blame — there is just something about group dynamics on the Vineyard (and elsewhere, evidently) that makes people hesitant and unwilling to think, explore and talk outside-the-box, in this case outside the DEP-sanctioned box. And yet, in one Vineyard project after another, it is the inside-the-box thinking and action that is the cause of the continual increase of our taxes, CO2 emissions, and nitrogen releases.
I totally agree with Camron that we need to collaborate on this issue. Some of us have begun to mull over an event for this winter, for the purpose of gathering and sharing information, thoroughly comparing options, and forming a practical plan of action that would lead to the most reduction of nitrogen pollution at the least cost. What information we don’t already have, we can easily get — we do not need to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for off-Island consulting engineers to do this for us.
Over the years, several top DEP officials have repeatedly urged us to formulate such a plan and present it to DEP, as I here paraphrase and quote: “We urge you to bring us a proposal for wastewater management for the Vineyard. Such a plan will not come from DEP — it will have to come from you, the people of the Vineyard, whose ponds are being harmed by current wastewater management practices.”
So let’s do it. We have everything to gain if we do, and much to lose if we don’t.
Anna Edey lives in West Tisbury. Her op-ed about wastewater issues appeared in the Nov. 16 Gazette. Camron Adibi’s response appeared on Nov. 30. Both can be read online at mvgazette.com.