New Regulations May Add Significant Costs for Homeowners

January 17, 2023

- By The MAR Legal Team

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) is proposing new regulations to reduce nitrogen loads in areas of the Cape and South Shore that may significantly increase costs for homeowners. MassDEP has broad authority to regulate Title V, the state septic system law, and nitrogen impaired estuaries, dubbed Nitrogen Sensitive Areas (NSAs). To further that mission, they have proposed new and amended regulations establishing a program they claim will more effectively address nitrogen pollution to estuaries.  

What’s an estuary? It’s the point where freshwater rivers meet the salt water of the ocean. These areas are unique ecosystems that support many important and endangered species. Too much nitrogen harms their productivity and can have ripple effects harming plants and animals in the surrounding area. 

What is MassDEP proposing? MassDEP is proposing two potential pathways to better protect NSAs. Communities can either: 

  1. Pursue a Watershed Permit – a 20-year permit which requires municipalities to monitor, evaluate, and report results then adjust and modify their strategies and practices as needed to address conditions that are causing water quality impairments, OR 
  2. Require installation of best available nitrogen reducing technology within 5 years – though MassDEP recognizes that this “may not be the most effective and efficient  way to restore the impacted estuaries and achieve established water quality goals,” they also believe it will help reduce nitrogen pollution. The cost to homeowners will be significant, $25,000-$30,000 or more, and the five-year implementation period will put immense strain on homeowners, the local real estate market, and septic industry. 


What are REALTORS® doing about it? Local associations and members in impacted areas have been participating in the MassDEP hearing process, engaging members (Cape and Islands Association of Realtors recently held an informational event with over 100 participants), and having conversations with state and local officials. CCIAOR has already shared initial concerns, which MAR shares, with particular emphasis on the expensive mandate required of homeowners in such a short timeframe. MAR is working with Robinson & Cole to evaluate legal impacts and will be providing written comment to MassDEP by the end of the month. If you have questions or concerns about the proposal and would like to get involved, contact MAR Legislative and Regulatory Counsel, Jonathan Schreiber.