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Marstons Mills site of 1st national water quality study of its kind

The Barnstable Clean Water Coalition is working to model what alternative septic could mean broadly for Cape Cod homeowners.

A Marstons Mills neighborhood is the site of the country’s first study of whether alternative septic systems can prove cleaner and more affordable for homeowners than what conventional wastewater treatment provides.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Barnstable Clean Water Coalition are completing upgrades to 15 homes in Sand Shores near Shubael Pond. The EPA chose the pond because of its nutrient pollution and nearby density of houses, which number at more than 350. Untreated household water closed the pond to swimming three years ago.

Zee Crocker, the Coalition's executive director, says the nonprofit is monitoring how upgrades could improve conventional septic and remove nitrogen from wastewater on a broader scale.

"Ultimately, we see a mosaic across the Cape where, in a generation, we can really clean up the water," Crocker told CAI during a neighborhood tour of the project this week.

"There's no reason we can't have a treatment system for wastewater in our backyard. I think we can change this in a generation if we get to work on it and have financing and incentives."

Crocker said he hopes the Barnstable Clean Water Coalition will get approval from other towns to eventually replace the expansion of municipal septic treatment with NitROE systems, developed by Edgartown-based KleanTu.

The Coalition needs to reach a state-required 50-system threshold to apply for septic-technology permits. The group is installing monitoring wells to track residential wastewater as part of the project, and covering the experimental upgrades at a cost of about $30,000 per house.

Patrick Flanary is a dad, journalist, and host of Morning Edition.