THE CHALLENGE: SOLVING WATER POLLUTION PROBLEMS AFFORDABLY
Over at the other end of the Cape State Representative Matt Patrick is thinking the same thing that many in Chatham are: To solve our environmental water pollution problems, do we need a full-fledged sewer system? Chatham's 20-year sewer project is estimated at a staggering $300 million cost. We all know how much big, long-term projects get more costly as the years roll by. Boston's Big Dig was estimated at $1.5-$3.5 billion in the early year and already has passed $15 billion in cost. It was conceived of in 1978, begun in about 1991 and more or less finished in 2007-08.
CCT will be looking into just the things Representative Patrick is talking about. While Chatham may become eligible for some low-interest or no-interest loans and some grants that may total 3-5% of the total cost, the big savings will be in finding alternatives that will do the job cost-effectively and burden taxpayers way less. If we can come up with less expensive alternatives, the state and all Cape towns will benefit as water pollution solutions become more affordable. Chatham is proud to be an environmental leader and should be even prouder to pioneer new ways of solving problems at less cost.
Consider alternatives to sewer systems
By MATTHEW C. PATRICK
May 29, 2009 6:00 AM Cape Cod Times
Nobody wants to clean up our bays and estuaries more than me. Back in the mid 1980s, when I was the chairman of the Citizens for the Protection of Waquoit Bay, we called for sewering East Falmouth. Things have changed now. Subsidies from the federal government are smaller or nonexistent, and we have a better idea of alternative methods of sewage treatment.
So I believe that Falmouth Selectman Putnam's concerns about rushing headlong into a costly — both to install and operate — sewer system are well founded.
What is another two years in the process to study alternative waste-water treatments when we have waited literally generations to act? Back in the 1980s we knew that the neighborhoods surrounding the bays on the south side of Falmouth needed to be sewered. Why didn't we begin to act sooner?
Money has always been the issue. At a price tag estimated to be around $580 million for conventional sewage treatment, we need to be sure about the potential for alternatives.
Installation of urine-diverting toilets in each or some of the homes in the area is an alternative I have suggested. Urine contains roughly 80 percent of the nitrogen our bodies excrete, so taking it out of the ground water would be an effective way of fighting nitrogen loading in our bays. Although the urine-diverting toilets have been used for several years in Switzerland, Sweden and Denmark and found quite compatible, they have not been fully investigated here in the United States. Therefore, it will take a demonstration program to answer some questions about it.
For example, we do not know if Americans will use it properly. The town consultant, Sterns and Wheeler, made the assumption, without any documentation, that men would not use them properly because they would have to sit down to urinate. At a workshop that I arranged, a gentleman who owns one said that is not the case and the urine compartment could be hit by standing males. A demonstration project can help us determine the usage rate.
The consultant also said that, "Homeowner renovation costs would include new toilets, plumbing, and urine-storage facilities. Urine-separating toilets are likely to be costly and lack decorative design options, which may decrease homeowner acceptance."
My response to this comment is that conventional sewer systems also require extensive and expensive plumbing changes and they are usually paid by the homeowner. What is left out of the consultant's argument against urine-diverting toilets is that for the cost we would be saving by not building a conventional sewer system, the town could foot the bill to install the toilets in, on average, two or three bathrooms in every home in the area and still do it for less than half the cost of a conventional sewer system.
We could install urine-diverting toilets for 20 percent or 30 percent of the price of installing a conventional sewer system. The operations and maintenance bill for the urine-diversion system would probably be less than the annual $5 million operation and maintenance costs for the conventional sewage treatment plant and collection system. A conventional system would also disrupt transportation on the town roads for several years. This would not be the case with on-site systems. Conventional systems would also use a tremendous amount of electricity each year.
Investigating alternatives to conventional sewage is the only responsible thing to do. We may have to pay a little more to run the UMass model again for investigating the alternatives, but I'm sure it won't even come close to the $5 million annual operating costs of the conventional sewer system, let alone the total cost.
The Barnstable County Health Department is in the process of putting a proposal together to fund the alternative treatment system demonstration pilot project to answer all the questions about urine-diverting toilets or composting toilets. It will take two years to complete, but I think it would be worth the wait.
Falmouth, and other towns, could help complete the study by contributing a share of the funding to the demonstration project.
State Rep. Matthew C. Patrick, D-Falmouth, represents the 3rd Barnstable district in the