As Jennifer Loughran led a tour of Barnstable Clean Water Coalition’s Shubael Pond Project, she called a newly installed NitROE wastewater treatment septic system a “living laboratory.”
“Maybe watching a septic installation isn’t always exciting,” said Loughran, project manager at the coalition. “But just thinking about the possibilities that these systems entail is mind-blowing.”
Zenas Crocker, coalition executive director, noted that all over Cape Cod, “the water problems have 80 to 85% to do with septic-related issues. We believe this system will be one of the key solutions to cleaning up area waters.”
The coalition, formerly Three Bays Preservation Inc., is working to provide 15 NitROE systems to the Shubael Pond neighborhood of Marstons Mills in a collaborative project with the town of Barnstable and others that include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Geological Survey and The Nature Conservancy.
The project is part of a two-year pilot program designed to test and monitor the system’s ability to reduce nutrients in the area’s groundwater. The project will also identify stormwater-related issues.
The initiative is one of a few that Barnstable Clean Water Coalition is pursuing, with help from grants and environmental departments and organizations, to make a difference in efforts to clean up Cape Cod waters. While towns are in various phases of wastewater planning that could take years to realize, alternative technologies are being pursued at the same time — to potentially make a difference sooner and in certain areas. What proves successful in Barnstable could have applications elsewhere.
An ‘elegant’ new system
Although concepts behind the Shubael Pond Project began in 2019 — in an area already troubled by intermittent water-quality problems that closed area ponds — the NitROE received a permit for provisional approval from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in June. Beginning in August, the coalition installed six NitROE units within the 350-home area that contributes to the Marstons Mills subwatershed — all on the coalition’s dime. With retrofit and full Title 5 septic system replacement procedures, the cost was between $20,000 to $30,000 per land parcel.
Crocker calls the NitROE system, developed by a local company called KleanTu, “elegant in its simplicity.” The machine, which can retrofit into an existing Title 5 septic system, is located between the septic tank and the leech chamber, where it focuses on removing nitrogen, carbon and suspended solids.
The 2,000-gallon NitROE tank largely relies on gravity and small amounts of electricity for its air pump, and includes two sections — the first a limestone aeration chamber, which converts ammonia to nitrate; and the second holding wood chips, which converts nitrate to nitrogen gas.
With sampling ports also located closer to the…