When it comes to wastewater management, the Vineyard has much to learn from Cape Cod, where ambitious efforts are underway to remediate ponds and estuaries and to bring towns into compliance with state and federal wastewater standards.

Paul Niedzwiecki, executive director of the Cape Cod Commission, told a meeting at the Katharine Cornell Theatre late last week that when coastal ponds decline, so do property values. And he has numbers to prove it.

Mr. Niedzwiecki visited the Island Thursday evening to talk about his commission’s re-drafted 208 plan, which lays out innovative strategies for dealing with wastewater. The Martha’s Vineyard Commission sponsored the presentation. About 60 people attended, including most of the MVC members.

Nutrient runoff, especially nitrogen from septic systems, poses a major threat to saltwater ponds and estuaries. The health of coastal ecosystems contributes to tourism and the quality of life, but also has a direct effect on property values.

Every one per cent decline in water quality due to nitrogen in Barnstable has come with a .7 per cent decline in property values for houses within 1,100 feet of the water, the commission director said. And when property values fall, other households absorb the difference, Mr. Niedzwiecki said. “So it is everybody’s problem economically and everybody needs to be part of the solution.”

The 208 plan, first adopted in 1978, examines wastewater in terms of watersheds rather than just municipalities. It provides guidelines for local and regional efforts, incorporating a wide range of traditional and nontraditional approaches. According to the plan, “everything has to be on the table.”

Despite the large amount of data collected by communities over the years, Mr. Niedzwiecki said few towns on the Cape have adopted wastewater plans. He noted that the Massachusetts Estuaries Program has provided a huge amount of data to local communities since 2001 but has not resulted in any wastewater projects.

The Cape commission studied the decision-making process and found a predictable pattern. “The first thing you’d hear is people that question the science, then people that question the engineering, then you vote no at town meeting,” Mr. Niedzwiecki said. “That is a very predictable process that we saw over and over again.”

To help break the pattern, the commission developed a software tool that allows users to see what would happen in the case of each alternative. He said the program has helped shift the conversation away from engineering issues and toward a discussion of community values and how to define success.

The revised plan collected every available technology and strategy that the commission thought could be effective at removing nitrogen — even those not allowed by permit — and put them into an enormous matrix. Mr. Niedzwiecki said the matrix, if printed out, would fill the walls of the Katherine Cornell Theatre. Among the many nontraditional approaches were eco-toilets and the addition of shellfish to ponds and estuaries to help them naturally process nitrogen.

MVC executive director Mark London said since traditional sewering is not an option for most of the Vineyard, where there is not enough housing density to make it viable, alternative solutions are important to explore.

Mr. Niedzwiecki said he was not familiar enough with the Vineyard to comment on specific solutions, but he did point out that most of the Vineyard’s watersheds are shared by more than one town. He said he believed the main challenge here will be for towns to collaborate on solutions. Another challenge, he said, is being able to piece together various funding sources to make projects affordable.

The new software tool, called the multi-variant planner, can help demonstrate what it might cost to take on a project collaboratively as opposed to independently. Mr. Niedzwiecki said money alone proved to be enough motivation for towns to cooperate.

A central feature of the plan is that it focuses on supporting existing planning processes. “We don’t need new organizations,” Mr. Niedzwiecki said. “We just need the ones that we have to be more coordinated than they are. And the commission itself needs to be less regulatory and in more of a support position.”

He noted the ongoing educational efforts on the Cape surrounding wastewater issues, but did not believe the problem was primarily one of education or even of engineering. “We know plenty of strategies that will remove enough nitrogen,” Mr. Niedzwiecki said. “It’s really a design issue. How do we piece these together on a local level so we can build consensus around a solution that will work as a whole?”

He encouraged the Vineyard politicians who had gathered to think 10 or 20 years into the future. “They shouldn’t be concerned that there is going to be a plan next year that is a hundred million dollars,” he said. “But that fear, it stops them from beginning the process.” He said addressing the problem sooner than later will save money.

Mr. Niedzwiecki and Mr. London both said they believe much of the Cape Cod plan is transferable to the Vineyard.

“We can be grateful that they have done a lot of homework for us,” Mr. London said of the Cape Cod Commission. “Some of it won’t make any sense here, but a lot of it will.”