Realtor association opposes Tisbury nitrogen regs

The local board of health denied a request to amend their regulations going into effect in January.

A map showing the nitrogen management overlay districts for Lake Tashmoo and Lagoon Pond. The yellow parts inside a watershed while the light gray parts are outside of a watershed. —Courtesy Town of Tisbury

The Tisbury Board of Health has declined a request from a local realtors association to reconsider its new nitrogen regulations, sticking with their intentions of improving water quality in Lake Tashmoo and Lagoon Pond by upgrading backyard septic systems.

The Cape Cod and Islands Realtors Association sent a letter to the board earlier this month suggesting that the new rules will target one of the few, relatively affordable locations on the Island, and that the regulations will ultimately make Tisbury more expensive.

“The average priced home that sold in these areas over the last year was $1.5 million — well below the island’s average of $2.2 million,” the letter from the association reads. “This action quite simply makes the more attainable properties in Tisbury more unaffordable.”

The Tisbury board of health regulations — which the board voted through in September — are scheduled to go into effect in the beginning of 2024, and would impact some 1,500 properties near Tashmoo and the Lagoon. 

Under the revised regulations, the buyer or seller of a home would be required to install nitrogen-removing technology — often called innovative alternative systems or I/A systems. The technology can be quite expensive, as much as $50,000 as some in the inspection field say.

In the letter, the association asks that the board not require the new technology when a property is transferred. They want the board to require the upgrade only when a system has failed. That requirement is already in Tisbury’s current nitrogen regulations.

“As an Association, supporting clean water infrastructure is a significant priority of our advocacy work,” the letter states. “We are writing to ask you to reconsider a portion of your new regulation, as your reconsideration will help with year-round home affordability and also maintain our common goals for clean water.”

Health board members at a Tuesday, Nov. 14, meeting said that they would “politely decline” the Association’s request. 

Member Jeff Pratt said that their regulations do not supersede anything that the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has considered. MassDEP recently set new sensitive watershed regulations for Cape Cod that will require towns with impaired coastal waterways to apply for 20-year, nitrogen mitigation permits. Plans would have to address the nitrogen pollution coming from backyard septic systems.

For towns that fail to do so, the homeowners within the impaired watersheds will be required to install innovative-alternative septic systems within five years. And health board members Tuesday agreed that the same regulations were likely planned for Martha’s Vineyard as well.

Pratt said that the Tisbury health board’s regulations going into effect are essentially a 20-year plan to remove nitrogen from the Lagoon and Tashmoo watersheds. Homeowners, he said, will have to pay for the upgrade eventually, whether now or within 20 years.

The board voted unanimously to send a letter to the realtors association suggesting it would pass on their recommendation.


  1. The problem with these maps and regulations is they have very little if any scientific evidence they work. These maps are guessed at without scientific studies, usually drawn by unqualified employees. Then if your property is within the map guideline you could have $100,000 in new expenses over 20 years and it’s mostly guesswork.

  2. Lagoon pond has been a problem for a long time. Toxic mud is settled deeply into the bottom in many areas and this problem is very old. Dredging was applied in the past. Dragers for scallops have not been seen for a long time and I experienced it with my rig under power and sail for a few years. But the pond is also more shallow than it used to be in recent memory. Before the causeway of Beach Road it was some 30 feet deep and tall ships from around the world would anchor as they prepared for journeys. Ferryboat island was actually where the ferry came in. As residents with connection to the too small, way too small sewer treatment plant we had hoped to see the promised larger plant so our costs could be reduced. We recently cut off all water coming into our studio building since we are paying about a thousand dollars every quarter for water which is basically one sink for washing brushes and we use water for our trees and gardens, all of it billed as wastewater. We need a wastewater plant to deal with this issue, and dredging. Saddling property owners with the idea of replacing Title 5 systems with supposedly better ones especially on the scale suggested seems like insanity at best. Unfortunately, Tisbury and Ben Robinson in particular are like that. No!

  3. Harmful algal bloom advisories issued in five ponds – Squibnocket Pond is the latest to get hit with the blue-green algae.
    MV Times – August 17, 2023

    Who thinks MV ponds are healthy? Can someone tell us how many wells have been contaminated with various substances? We live on a pile of sand. What goes in the toilet will eventually go in the water. Can I make it any more graphic than that??

  4. Jack. These watershed boundaries were drawn based on a detailed groundwater flow model that was reviewed and approved by both the U.S. Geological Survey and the Mass Estuaries Project. They are as accurate as you can get.

    • I am currently involved in building in Edgartown and the so called Lilly Pond district has maps widely different between the Town and MVC. Who is to guess which maps are correct, if either is?

      • Lily pond is a town well site I believe so the zone of protection that relates to it is based on where the groundwater contributes to the well under specific conditions. These conditions are related to very low precipitation and pumping the well at it’s maximum capacity. This is a very different area from a pond watershed.

  5. I do not understand why if a septic system is still operating properly it would need to be replaced. What is the thinking and justification for that? For the town to demand a new system be installed just because a property has been sold makes no sense. It’s an onerous and overreaching demand by the town especially as the technology is still unproven. Even the septic installers say these new systems aren’t that great. Again I ask, if it isn’t broken, why a demand to replace it? Replace it when it fails, that’s the sensible thing to do. I understand the town wants to be proactive, but this is ridiculous. They’ve already restricted my property by not allowing me the fourth bedroom my septic is rated for (which is clean and tidy per inspection). Now they’ll require I replace the whole thing if I want to sell?

  6. Wondering will the very concerned realtors
    Reduce their commission rate from 6% to 1% so all those affordable housing transactions can afford adequate septic upgrade;thank you realtors for concerns of good health

  7. Well testing is done monthly in all towns, at all wells heads. Nitro levels are at a minimum, if any present at all in these test. How could this be possible with so much development and title v systems in place?
    Stop cutting all the trees around every pond on this island. Stop with all the green lawns around every pond on this island. Lastly, tell mother nature to stop raining, which contains more nitrogen then anything else.

  8. The actions taken by the board of health members in the last few yrs will have one result and It wont be clean water in the ponds. It will be the impossibility of homeownership by an average citizen. The cost associated with this type of “provisional” de-nitrification system is outrageous, not guaranteed to work, and requires a constant power supply without interruption for 24 hours a day. This will make or break it for most individuals. Unfair for the last 2 percent of development or the individual who wants to remodel their home.

  9. Title V is actually a prototype the data collected since 1995 is not as expected , It’s disappointing and prompting new systems.
    Sites that handle and process sewage
    Have been denying some tankers to unload this is only the beginning of the shit storm , no pun intended;septic systems have expiration dates, and will always need replacements ,ponds shouldn’t have expiration dates. Take interest in reading about how many pathogens are being contributed from septics and the birds defecating ,which you can’t control
    Check out what parasites can infect one without notice , the health risks that are difficult to cure ,you will thank your boards of health that continue to watch over your health.Truth is the island isn’t affordable for all, the push to price our island parcels so high has pushed out many.I find strange that realtors expect anyone to think they are having a hard time helping lo income?they have profited large and continue to market parcels well over assessed values.
    Who exacting is at a disadvantage?
    Water quality critical .Check out how many children on are island labeled special needs
    And ask yourself? Should I worry about protecting the water table? I personally
    Wish to thank our boards of health.

Comments are closed.