The Alternative

Creating Space for Technologists to Tackle Wastewater Challenges on Cape Cod

February 14, 2024

The Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center (MASSTC) is a Program of the

Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment

Some Things You Just Can't Ignore

Bad news about poor water quality in lakes, ponds, estuaries and bays across Cape Cod has become commonplace in recent years. Shellfishing areas are often closed, signs warning of toxic cyanobacteria blooms surround our favorite ponds, stinky piles of rotting algae litter the beaches – it’s obvious we have a problem.

The primary source of this pollution, wastewater-borne nutrients from onsite septic systems, has been known for decades. MASSTC has functioned as a first responder, working to develop innovative nutrient management strategies for 25 years and continues to lead the charge today.

In response to strong public support and a request for assistance from the Town of Falmouth Water Quality Management Committee (WQMC), MASSTC has committed to test a new innovative nutrient management strategy called urine diversion or UD. According to the Vermont-based non-profit group, The Rich Earth Institute, human urine contributes the majority of nutrients (80% of nitrogen and phosphorus) in residential wastewater while only accounting for a tiny fraction of the total volume (less than 1%). When considering this information, the potential benefits of diverting urine from the waste stream as a means of reducing nutrient pollution just makes too much sense to ignore.

MASSTC, in collaboration with the WQMC and local non-profit groups the Green Center and Falmouth Pond Coalition, have developed a project plan with a budget of $1.9 million to test the nutrient removal performance of UD. The proposed project would entail installing UD toilet fixtures in 50 to 75 homes and monitoring their nutrient removal performance for three years. This will be the first UD municipal project in the U.S.

Read this article in the Falmouth Enterprise to learn more: Falmouth Water Quality Committee Endorses Urine-Diversion Pilot.

-Bryan Horsley, MASSTC Project Assistant

Barbara Moran is a correspondent on WBUR’s environmental team and she took on a huge two-part story on the Cape's wastewater woes.

We asked Barbara how she felt after the deep dive into the wastewater issue:

"I'm completely obsessed with Cape Cod's wastewater issues now. It's a subject nobody wants to talk about, but it's really causing an existential crisis for the Cape. I'm especially intrigued by the role that pee-cycling/urine diversion may play in solving the problem, and I think the Cape may emerge from this crisis as a national leader."

Part one is on Cape Cod Needs To Clean Up Its Water. The solutions could cost billions.

Part two is on Cape Cod's power couple of pee-cycling wants you to save that liquid gold.

We were honored to have a voice in both stories and to be part of a mini-documentary Barbara and Scientific American worked on together. You can watch the film here.

MASSTC Welcomes New RME Program Manager David Izzo!

We're so excited to welcome our new Responsible Management Entity (RME) Program Manager, David Iorio Izzo. David is very passionate about building community and education around his new role. It's a theme we noticed he's pulled along with him wherever he goes.

If you don't know what an RME is, it's similar to how a sewer utility manages a community’s wastewater treatment plant, but in this case, it's the management and the support system for I/A systems.

David tells us in an interview: "Making positive impacts in the communities I live in has been a consistent theme throughout my professional career. For me, it goes beyond a professional obligation; it’s a deeply ingrained belief that individuals and organizations have a responsibility to contribute to the well-being of the communities they are a part of.

Throughout my career, I’ve witnessed the transformative power of community engagement and the positive change that can result from collective efforts. Using my skills and resources to effect positive change is not just a choice, but a duty I feel compelled to fulfill."

We're so excited to see how he grows this very important part of MASSTC for Barnstable County. Read our interview with David by clicking on the "Read" link below!


The Outermost House: A Year Of Life On The Great Beach Of Cape Cod

In hopes that you're taking the time to read some of the books we promote, this week we turn to The Outermost House written in 1928 by Henry Beston which chronicles his solitary year spent on a Cape Cod beach.

If this book doesn't make you fall in love with Cape Cod and want to protect it, we're not sure what can.

Beston wrote: “Nature is a part of our humanity, and without some awareness and experience of that divine mystery man ceases to be man.”

The Outermost House has long been recognized as a classic of American nature writing. Henry Beston had originally planned to spend just two weeks in his seaside home, but was so possessed by the mysterious beauty of his surroundings that he found he "could not go."

Instead, he sat down to try and capture in words the wonders of the Cape Cod he found himself in thrall to: the migrations of seabirds, the rhythms of the tide, the windblown dunes, and the scatter of stars in the changing summer sky.

Beston argued that, "The world today is sick to its thin blood for the lack of elemental things, for fire before the hands, for water, for air, for the dear earth itself underfoot." Seventy-five years after they were first published, Beston's words are more true than ever.


We'll Be At The Cape Cod Natural History Conference!

The 2024 Mass Audubon Cape Cod Natural History Conference is on Saturday, March 9th, 8:30am-3:30pm at the Tilden Arts Center, Cape Cod Community College. This conference will feature a series of presentations from area researchers from environmental organizations across Cape Cod, speaking on a diversity of timely natural history topics.

MASSTC Project Assistant Bryan Horsley will be a featured speaker on what else? Urine diversion! Is Pee the Key to Cleaning Up the Cape's Water Quality Problems?


Cape Cod AquiFund

Barnstable County is pleased to provide low-to-no-interest betterment loans to Cape Cod homeowners faced with the cost of replacing their septic systems. The Cape Cod AquiFund provides financial assistance for septic system replacement, installation of advanced onsite wastewater treatment units, and sewer connections.

Explore AquiFund


Phone: (774)-330-3019

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