With funding approved to pilot a new type of septic system in the Lagoon Pond and Lake Tashmoo watersheds, Tisbury may soon find itself a step ahead in a race to preserve coastal ponds on the Vineyard.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, a publicly funded agency that promotes clean-energy technology in the state, has awarded a $150,000 grant for the yearlong pilot, which will feature between 10 and 12 septic systems shown to remove as much nitrogen from wastewater as a conventional sewage treatment plant.

A spokesman for MassCEC confirmed the award in a conversation with the Gazette this week.

Tisbury selectman Melinda Loberg, who was involved in applying for the grant, noted longstanding efforts across the Island to restore coastal ponds without spending millions on sewering.

“The alternate systems really have not impressed us, as far as getting a lot of bang for your buck,” she said Wednesday. The new system, developed by CES Clean Water, (president John Smith lives in Edgartown), could be a game changer, she said.

In simplified terms, the alternative NitROE system converts most of the nitrogen in wastewater to ammonia and then to gas. The effluent then discharges into a leach field. As a result, the nitrogen does not enter the watershed and contribute to harmful algal blooms in the ponds.

“It has the potential to benefit not only the Vineyard, but also the Cape, which is dealing with all the same issues,” MassCEC director of water innovation Michael Murphy said of the system, adding that it appears more promising than similar pilots in the past. “It looks like this is a little closer to commercializing,” he said.

“We are down to where the nitrogen isn’t really detectable in the system,” said Michael Loberg, who serves on the town board of health and is helping launch the pilot. He said the goal is to demonstrate a 90 per cent reduction of nitrogen in wastewater, or a final result of about five milligrams of nitrogen per liter, compared to the 19 milligrams typical for denitrifying systems. Mr. Loberg is married to Melinda Loberg the selectman.

The system has been tested at the Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center on Cape Cod, and has been meeting expectations, Mr. Loberg said. “But that’s different than putting them into someone’s home, so we have a lot to learn.”

Test center director George Heufelder is running a pilot on the Cape, featuring a system known as a layer cake. As part of that study, two of the systems will be installed in Vineyard Haven. Mr. Heufelder will also serve as an advisor during the NitROE study.

Mr. Loberg said a number of residents have already inquired about having a NitROE system installed on their property. Each system will need approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection, and homeowners are expected to cover a third of the cost, or about $500. But the town and the CES clean water share of the grant will cover the cost of monitoring for the life of the system, which Mr. Loberg said could be up to 30 years.

The total cost of the pilot is $257,000, with MassCEC covering two thirds. Much of the remainder will come in the form of services provided by CES Clean Water, the town department of public works, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and Tisbury pond associations.

The town plans to set up a state-certified laboratory at its wastewater treatment plant for ongoing testing related to the systems. Mr. Loberg said the laboratory could help save money over time as more systems are installed. The board of health requires denitrifying systems in the Lagoon and Tashmoo watersheds under certain conditions, with an exemption for buildings in existing and proposed sewer districts.

With state approval, the NitROE system could eventually move from a pilot to a provisional license, which allows for a broader range of uses. The final step would be to authorize the system for general use. Each phase comes with significantly lower costs related to monitoring and analysis.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs on its website lists nine wastewater treatment technologies approved for piloting, 11 for provisional use and 36 for general use.

In addition to its work on the NitROE pilot, the Tisbury board of health has launched a program to monitor groundwater wells in town, partly in response to public concerns as to whether groundwater is in fact the source of nutrient overload in the ponds. The town applied last year for a grant to monitor groundwater along the Lagoon Pond and Lake Tashmoo shorelines, but the grant was denied.

Mr. Loberg pointed to “overwhelming data” pinning groundwater as the source, but said the town has still put aside money to test for nitrogen in the wells. “We are confident it is there, but the people have challenged us to demonstrate that,” he said. “And we are accepting that challenge.”

This story has been changed from an earlier version which stated incorrectly that funding for the project is in hand. The funding has been approved but is not yet in hand.