FAQs

Massachusetts Title 5 Septic System Design and Permitting

What is the process to permit and construct a Title 5 system ?

Design of a Title 5 system begins by reviewing the details of the situation with the client.  The discussion centers around the property location, whether it is a new or replacement system, the proposed use (residential, commercial, etc.), as well as, a general overview of the permitting process.  Trinity Engineering performs an initial site reconnaissance, typically using aerial photography and GIS mapping systems, followed by site visit and proposal.  Once the proposal is accepted, the field work can be scheduled.

In the field, the first step is a Site and Soil Evaluation which consists of conducting Deep Observation Holes (DOH) and Perc Tests to demonstrate that the site is suitable for a Title 5 system.  The local Board of Health (BOH) must witness the Site and Soil Evaluation.   A contractor is required to excavated the DOHs and Perc Test locations.  Next, a site map is generated to show topography and key features for the design.

Once the design and permit application materials are completed they are forwarded to the client for their use.  The client, or their contractor, must obtain a Disposal Construction Works Permit for the system installation prior commencing construction.  During construction Trinity Engineering is available to respond to inquiries by the contractor.

A final inspection is required by both the BOH and Trinity Engineering.   The final inspection is typically arranged by the contractor.  Once the system meets with the approval of Trinity Engineering and the BOH, a Form 3, Certificate of Compliance (CoC) is signed by Trinity Engineering, as well as, the contractor and forwarded to the BOH.  The BOH issues the final CoC.  The BOH retains copies of the CoC, as should the client.

Why are some Title 5 systems mounded higher than others ?

When designing a Title 5 system, the licensed Soil Evaluator must determine the Estimate Seasonal High Groundwater Table (ESHGWT).  The Title 5 code requires that the bottom of the Soil Absorption System (SAS), sometimes referred to as a leaching field, or the septic field, but be placed four feet above the ESHGWT.   Therefore the height of the mound is entirely dependent upon the groundwater table at the site.

I some cases, on Soil Absorption Systems that accept high flows the design engineer must also account for the mounding in the groundwater table that results from the application of the effluent to the SAS, which results in the mound being raised a bit higher in response to the mounding in order to maintain the required four feet of separation.

Is a permit required to connect to a municipal sewer in Massachusetts ?

In order to connect to a municipal sewer the applicant must typically petition the city or town.  The municipality will typically require permitting for work conducted within the right of way and if the municipality owns the sewer infrastructure it may also approve connections to its infrastructure.  Additionally, it may be the case that the sewer district operates as a separate entity distinct from the city or town and as such also issues its own approval to connect.

When is a Title 5 Inspection required ?

Generally speaking, a Title 5 Inspection is required at the time that a property transfers, but no more than 2 years after the transfer has occurred.  There are some limited exceptions for which a Title 5 Inspection is not required such as, taking a mortgage on a property, refinancing, a change in the form of ownership among the same owners, such as placing the property in a family trust, adding or deleting a spouse or transfer of a property between spouses.  Other exemptions exist so it is best to review the guidance provided by MADEP and consult an attorney familiar with these matters to make the final determination.

Title 5 Inspections that are performed up to three years prior to the transfer of the property may be used provided that system pumping records are provided demonstrating that the system was pump at least once per year during the three year period.  Also, new systems that have received a Certificate of Compliance within the last three years that also have system pumping records demonstrating that the system has been pumped every year during the three year period do not need a Title 5 Inspection.

Trinity Engineering often recommends that the seller perform the Title 5 Inspection, or at least a voluntary Title 5 Inspection prior to the sale in order to identify whether there may be an issue with the existing system.  Finding out that the Title 5 system has failed after a purchase and sale agreement has been signed can often mean that the seller will bear the full cost of the repairs required.  Knowing ahead of time can prepare the seller for the cost and allow them time to plan the repairs or at least adjust the asking price accordingly.

There are other rules that apply to other situations such as large systems, shared systems and condominium units, so it’s best to consult with Trinity Engineering to review the particular details that may apply in your situation.

I am planning on selling my home. Should I perform the Title 5 Inspection prior to marketing the property ?

Generally speaking, a Title 5 Inspection is required at the time that a property transfers.

Title 5 Inspections that are performed up to three years prior to the transfer of the property may be used provided that system pumping records are provided demonstrating that the system was pump at least once per year during the three year period.  Also, new systems that have received a Certificate of Compliance within the last three years that also have system pumping records demonstrating that the system has been pumped every year during the three year period do not need a Title 5 Inspection.

Trinity Engineering often recommends that the seller perform the Title 5 Inspection, or at least a voluntary Title 5 Inspection prior to the sale in order to identify whether there may be an issue with the existing system.  Finding out that the Title 5 system has failed after a purchase and sale agreement has been signed can often mean that the seller will bear the full cost of the repairs required.  Knowing ahead of time can prepare the seller for the cost and allow them time to plan the repairs or at least adjust the asking price accordingly.

 

Vermont Septic System Design and Permitting

What is the process to get a septic system permitted in Vermont ?

All septic systems require a wastewater permit from the state of Vermont.  The design process begins by reviewing the details of the situation with the client. The discussion centers around the property location, whether it is a new or replacement system, the proposed use (residential, commercial, etc.), as well as, a general overview of the permitting process.  Trinity Engineering performs an initial site reconnaissance, typically using aerial photography and GIS mapping systems, followed by site visit and proposal. Once the proposal is accepted, the field work can be scheduled.

In the field, the first step is a Site and Soil Evaluation which consists of conducting test pits or hand borings and Perc Tests to demonstrate that the site is suitable for a wastewater system.  A contractor may be required to excavate test pits.  Next, a site map is generated to show topography and key features for the design.

Once the design and permit application materials are completed they are forwarded to the client for their review and signature.  The signed application materials are uploaded to the state electronically.  At the VT Department of Environmental Conservation (VTDEC), the application is first given an administrative review, and once its deemed administratively complete, the technical review period begins.  The technical review can take up to 45 days to complete, but is typically done in 20-30 days.  The owner and their contractor must wait for the permit to be issued before commencing construction.

The owner will receive a copy of the wastewater permit from the VTDEC.  The permit must be filed in the town land records office.   During construction Trinity Engineering is available to respond to inquiries by the contractor and owner.

A final inspection is requested by the contractor and once the system meets with the approval of Trinity Engineering an Installation Certification Letter is issued to the owner.  A copy is sent to the VTDEC on the owner’s behalf.  This letter must also be filed in the town land records.

How is the size and location of the septic system determined ?

An on site wastewater system (a.k.a. septic system) is located where the soils are suitable for the disposal field and away from other limiting factors such as wellshields, property lines, and foundation drains.  The other system components such as the septic tank and pump chamber must also be sited properly, away from wells, driveways, etc.  The site is review carefully to identify limiting factors prior to setting up the perc test.

The soils in the disposal field area are tested to determine the depth of the Estimated Seasonal High Groundwater Table (ESHGWT), as well as, other limiting layers such as bedrock.  The bottom of the disposal field must maintain a three vertical separation from the ESHGWT and a four foot vertical separation from ledge.  The minimum required depth to ESHGWT for an in ground disposal field is typically in the range of five to six feet.  If the water table or ledge is found to be above the level required for an in ground system, a mounded system must be installed provided the soils have an adequate depth to the water table and ledge, which is typically on the order of 18″ to 24″ minimum.  Therefore, the depth of the water table and other restrictive layers determine the height of the mounded system.

Perc testing is also performed on the soils.  The perc rate and the design flows from the house or commercial use establish the size, or footprint of the system.

New systems, or systems with expansion of design flows beyond what is currently in use require full compliance with the code.  Replacement systems are eligible for variances on a case by case basis to address an aging or failed system.

Innovative/Alternative (I/A) systems are allowed and are sometimes utilized to address failed systems on sites that have particularly difficult site constraints, or in situations where high strength wastewater is concerned.  An I/A system essentially pretreats the wastewater prior to the being directed to the disposal field for final treatment and disposal.

 

Why do some sites have mound systems and others do not ?

Whether a site has a mound or a conventional in ground disposal field is dependent entirely upon the soils present at the site.  In order to design an in ground system, the site must have a fairly deep water table and no limitations from ledge.  The decision to install an in ground system is not done solely at the discretion of the design engineer, owner or contractor.

As part of the wastewater design process, the soils in the proposed disposal field area are tested to determine the depth of the Estimated Seasonal High Groundwater Table (ESHGWT), as well as, other limiting layers such as bedrock.  The bottom of the disposal field must maintain a three vertical separation from the ESHGWT and a four foot vertical separation from ledge.  The minimum required depth to ESHGWT for an in ground disposal field is typically in the range of five to six feet.  If the water table or ledge is found to be above the level required for an in ground system, a mounded system must be installed provided the soils have an adequate depth to the water table and ledge, which is typically on the order of 18″ to 24″ minimum.  Therefore, the depth of the water table and other restrictive layers determine the height of the mounded system.

Perc testing is also performed on the soils.  The perc rate and the design flows from the house or commercial use establish the size, or footprint of the system.

How can I determine if my lot already has a state permit ?

The state of Vermont maintains an on line searchable database of all wastewater permits.   The user must enter information such as the town, street, owner/applicant, or Project ID (permit number) if it is known.  This database will also provide information on state subdivisions and state municipal connection permits.

It helps to attempt the search several different ways.  Try searching by the original owner/applicant if known, or since the current owner might not have filed the permit, search by road and town only.   All wastewater permits are required to be filed in the town land records, so a permit number for the lot in question may be turned up by search the town land records.

More recent permits will provide links to the permit and supporting drawings and documents.

Older permits may not be on line, but copies can be requested by contacting the Regional Offices and referencing the Permit Number, or Project ID.

 

Do I need a state wastewater permit to connect to a municipal sewer ?

Connecting to a municipal sewer system in Vermont requires a state permit, called a municipal connection permit.  The first step is to obtain a sewer allocation from the sewer district.  The allocation is an agreement on the part of the sewer district to handle the wastewater flows from your project.

Trinity Engineering coordinates with the sewer district to meet their construction standards and the applicable state standards and prepares a sewer connection design.   The municipal connection design and the application materials are forwarded to the state to for their review and approval.  Additional permits may also be required, including right of way permits if the sewer main is in the street.

A final inspection by the sewer district and the engineer is require to verify the system connection was designed in accordance with the approved design.

 

Septic System Operation and Maintenance

What are some frequent causes of septic system failure ?

In our experience, failure of a septic system can be traced back to three general root causes; hydraulic overloading, lack of maintenance and changes in operation that are beyond the original wastewater design.

The most common cause of failure that we have seen is excess flow.  Assuming the septic system was designed and installed properly, excess flow can cause the system to fail hydraulically.  This simply means that there is more water being sent to the system than it can physically percolate.  If this problem is corrected quickly there is typically no long term damage.  However, if the system is allowed to operate in a hydraulically overloaded manner, even though the effluent may not initially be surfacing, long term damage is occurring.   Since the drainage field remains flooded for extended periods of time, the field is deprived of oxygen and therefore operates in an anaerobic condition.    The anaerobic bacteria leave behind iron sulfides.  The black, odorous sulfur compounds clog the soil pores and reduces the perc rate and eventually the effluent can no longer percolate downward and surfaces providing a visual and olfactory indication that the field has failed.

We have identified the following causes of excess flow resulting in hydraulic overloading of a septic system:

  • Water Treatment Unit backwash lines directed into the building sewer rather than to a dry well.  Water treatment units can backwash several hundred gallons of water daily, almost equivalent to another home.
  • Leaky fixtures in the home, most often, leaky toilets.  Just one leaky toilet can be equivalent to 1 to 2 additional single family residence.
  • Leaky Septic Tanks or Pump Chambers on sites with high groundwater tables.
  • Connection of sump pumps to the building sewer line, rather than directing it to the ground surface.

Lack of maintenance, such as not pumping the septic tank frequently or removing the effluent tee filter is another common cause of septic system failure.  The result is additional solid waste being carried to the field   This additional waste presents an oxygen demand in the field, essentially behaving more like a high strength waste water than typical residential waste water.  The result, as with hydraulic overloading, is oxygen depletion in the field.  The anaerobic bacteria become dominant which leads to the deposition of iron sulfide compounds that clog the pores of the soil reducing the perc rate.  When septic tanks are not pumped regularly, there is less residence time in the tanks and the solids that would have normally settled, no longer do and are carried to the field.  When the carry over gets excessive, the solids can sometime block the effluent tee filter on the outlet of the septic tank resulting in sewage back up into the home.  Removing the filter solves the backup problem but begins the process of excessive solids carry over to the field and failure of the field is not far behind.

Changes made can include, adding garbage disposals, connecting backwash lines from water treatment units, connecting sump pumps, directing surface water toward the disposal area, or disposal of non-residential wastewater products that are toxic to the biological communities that digest the wastewater in the septic tank and disposal field.

How often should I have my septic tank pumped ?

As general rule, we typically recommend that at a minimum septic tanks be pumped every three years.  Systems that have garbage disposals should be pumped annually.  The USEPA and Massachusetts Title 5 both offer handy reference guides that pertain to septic system operation and maintenance.

In Massachusetts there are special cases when you might want to pump your septic tank more often, such as when you have had a Title 5 Inspection done on a facility in Massachusetts and you want to keep a previous Title 5 Inspection or Certificate of Compliance active for a future property transfer.

 

 

Should I use an additive in my septic tank ?

Additives are not required for septic systems that are properly design, properly operated and properly maintained.

However, if you feel the need to utilize and additive or one is recommended to you for use, it is recommended that you review the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MADEP) list of approved septic system additives.

 

 

I have an effluent tee filter, how often should it be cleaned ?

Effluent tee filters should be cleaned annually and every time the septic tank is pumped.

If the effluent tee filter clogs, often it could be a symptom that the system is receiving excess flow or that the septic tank requires maintenance.  Anything that increases flow through the septic tank, such as a leaky toilet will reduce the residence time of the liquid in the septic tank, which cause more suspended particles that would have normally settled out to be carried over to the field.  The effluent tee filter on the outlet of the septic tank will trap most of these particles and if it is overloaded due to the excess hydraulic loading, it could be your first indication that there is an issue that needs to be addressed.   Simply pulling the filter and not reinstalling it only moves the problem down the line to the disposal field.

 

Vermont Stormwater Permits

When is an Construction General Permit required in Vermont ?

Under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System, Phase II (NPDES), projects that propose to disturb more than 1 acre of land require a permit for the discharge of stormwater.   The Construction General Permit 3-9020 authorizes permittees to discharge stormwater runoff from construction activities in Vermont provided the project is in compliance with the requirements of the permit.

The permit requirements for the project are dependent on the risk posed by the project.  Projects risks are evaluated by completing an Appendix A form, to determine if the project, as designed, meets the Low Risk or Moderate Risk categories.  Projects with higher risks are required to obtain an Individual Permit.

When is an Operational Stormwater Permit required in Vermont ?

Coverage under the Operational General Permit 3-9015 is required for discharges of stormwater runoff from the construction, expansion, and redevelopment of impervious surfaces, as described in detail in the Stormwater Management Rule including the following:

  • A discharge from new development equal to or greater than one (1) acre of impervious surface;
  • A discharge from the expansion of an existing impervious surface, such that the total resulting impervious surface is equal to or greater than one (1) acre, except that a permit is not required for an expansion that meets the exemption in subsection 18-304(a)(4) of this Stormwater Management Rule;
  • A discharge from the redevelopment of an existing impervious surface if the redeveloped portion of the existing impervious surface is equal to or greater than one (1) acre;
  • A discharge from a combination of expansion and redevelopment of an existing impervious surface, such that the total resulting impervious surface is equal to or greater than one (1) acre, except that a permit is not required if the exemptions in subsections 18-304(a)(4) and (5) of this Stormwater Management Rule are met;
  • A discharge from any size of impervious surface if the Secretary determines that treatment is necessary to reduce the adverse impacts of the discharge due to the size of the impervious surface, drainage pattern, hydraulic connectivity, installation or modification of drainage or conveyance structures, location of the discharge, existing stormwater treatment, or other factors identified by the Secretary; and
  • A discharge from an existing impervious surface of equal to or greater than one (1) acre if the Secretary has previously issued an individual stormwater discharge permit or individual temporary pollution permit for the discharge or has previously granted coverage for the discharge under a stormwater discharge general permit.

No Operational Stormwater permit is required in Vermont for:

  1. Discharges of stormwater runoff from farms subject to accepted agricultural practices adopted by the Secretary of Agriculture, Food And Markets and discharges of stormwater runoff from silvicultural activities subject to accepted management practices adopted by the Commissioner of Forests, Parks and Recreation;
  2. Discharges of stormwater runoff that are already covered by a NPDES permit for a direct or indirect discharge from a wastewater treatment plant or by a permit issued pursuant to Vermont’s Underground Injection Control Rule;
  3. Discharges of regulated stormwater runoff from new development, redevelopment, or expansion of impervious surfaces if the discharge did not require a stormwater discharge permit prior to the effective date of this Stormwater Management Rule, provided that:
    • A technically complete application for all local, state, and federal permits, except NPDES construction activities permits, related to either the regulation of land use or a discharge to state waters has been submitted as of the effective date of this Stormwater Management Rule, the applicant does not subsequently file an application for permit amendment that would have an adverse impact on water quality, and substantial construction (e.g. construction of roads and drainage infrastructure) of the project commences within two years of July 1, 2005;
    • All local, state, and federal permits, except NPDES construction activities permits, related to either the regulation of land use or a discharge to state waters has been obtained as of the effective date of this Stormwater Management Rule, and substantial construction (e.g. construction of roads and drainage infrastructure) of the project commences within two years of July 1, 2005;
    • No local, state, or federal permit, except NPDES construction activities permits, related to either the regulation of land use or a discharge to state waters is required, and substantial construction (e.g. construction of roads and drainage infrastructure) of the project commences within two years of July 1, 2005; or
    • The new development, redevelopment, or expansion is a linear project, and an order of necessity has been issued or right-of-way acquisition has been substantially completed as of July 1, 2004, and construction of the project commences within five years after July 1, 2004;
  4. The expansion of an existing impervious surface, such that the total resulting impervious surface is equal to or greater than one (1) acre, if:
    • the increase or addition of impervious surface is less than 5,000 square feet; and
    • the expansion is made to existing impervious surfaces created prior to June 1, 2002; and
    • This exemption may be used for consecutive expansions of an existing impervious surface up to a cumulative total of 5,000 square feet. When the cumulative total expansion exceeds 5,000 square feet, the expanded impervious surface in excess of 5,000 square feet must comply with the treatment standard in subsection 18-306(a)(1) of this Stormwater Management Rule.
  5. The redevelopment of an existing impervious surface if the redeveloped portion of the existing impervious surface is less than one (1) acre;
  6. Discharges of regulated stormwater runoff into a water that is not a stormwater-impaired water from impervious surfaces in existence as of January 1, 1978;
  7. Discharges of regulated stormwater runoff into a water that is not a stormwater-impaired water from impervious surfaces of less than one (1) acre regardless of when constructed;
  8. Discharges of regulated stormwater runoff from a single family or duplex residence, including associated driveways, that are not built as part of a multi-family residential subdivision; and
  9. Discharges of regulated stormwater runoff from the portion of a bridge superstructure that spans the normal water level of a receiving water and normally no water from the approaches flows to the bridge deck
Are there on going inspections required on a stormwater system ?

Operational Stormwater permits require designer certification that the stormwater system was constructed in accordance with the design at the completion of construction.

Additionally, all Operational Stormwater permits require annual inspections.

Massachusetts Stormwater Permits

When is a Stormwater Permit required in Massachusetts ?

The Massachusetts Stormwater Management Standard requires that no new stormwater conveyances (e.g. outfalls) may discharge untreated stormwater directly to or cause erosion in wetlands or waters of the Commonwealth.    Wetlands and waters of the Commonwealth are regulated under the Wetland Protection Act.   Therefore, all projects that discharge to wetlands or directly to waters of the Commonwealth need to comply with the stormwater management standards when filing for a Notice of Intent for the wetlands permit process.

There are exemptions for certain types of projects such as single family residences, and emergency road repairs.  Other projects such as residential development and multi-family house developments with four or fewer units are also exempt, provided the project does not affect a critical area, in which case the project may require compliance with the stormwater standard to the maximum extent practicable.

The proposed project may also require a NPDES Phase II construction phase erosion control permit through the USEPA Region 1 if the disturbed area is in excess of 1 acre.

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