Areas of Practice

Across the spectrum of environmental law, we offer advice and representation with practical, results-oriented lawyering in the following practice areas...

Septic systems, sewage treatment plants, and sewerage (meaning a system of sewer lines) are of regular concern to municipalities, landowners, developers, investors, and state agencies. We work with such necessities all the time. This means we concern ourselves with our clients’ interests, rights and situations viz many Massachusetts and local agencies, boards and officials.

The Division of Water Pollution Control (DWPC) within the Bureau of Waste Prevention (BWP) of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regulates all disposal of sewage by sewerage systems, as well as with disposal in unsewered areas (in other words, by septic systems).

In eastern Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) is an independent authority created in 1985, responsible for regional waste water collection and treatment (and water supply) for Metropolitan Boston.  About 100 cities and towns are connected directly or indirectly.  A permit is required for any domestic or industrial discharge to the sewage the <WRA services.  The MWRA can issue orders to private dischargers and municipalities violating MWRA regulations.

A separate DEP permit program governs connections and extensions for discharges to sewerage systems.  Thereby the DWPC regulates the construction, connections, repairs, and expansions as well as extensions regarding public and private sewage treatment plans and their sewerage and discharge points.

Towns can charge developers an “inflow-and-infiltration reduction fee” for access to the town’s sewer system. Denver Street LLC  v. Town of Saugus,  462 Mass. 651 (2012).

Septic systems fall under a set of regulations known as Title V, a portion of the State Environmental Code dealing with on-site sewage disposal.  Each septic system requires a permit from the local board of health or its agent, with a physical inspection.  The system installer, the permit procedure, the design specifications, the testing prerequisites, and the performance standards (including certain inspection during the life of the system, as with a land transfer) are all governed by Title V.  Any variance from Title V requires approval of the board of health and, on review, the DEP.  Certain provisions cannot be waived.  

Thus, the local board of health has the first jurisdiction over the approval of any septic system and variance, and DEP has variance approval and plan review powers.  For instance, DEP must approve the use of most alternative systems, modifications of large flow systems, and several other projects types where DEP review is appropriate.  

In addition to these state statutes and regulations, involving the board of health and its agents in significant ways, municipalities have authority to promulgate their own septic system regulations.  Many municipalities have such local septic system rules.  Some municipalities have used this power to regulate package treatment plants, (this is, large septic systems which need groundwater discharge permits from DEP), mounded septic systems, groundwater and soil conditions, and time-of-testing during the year.  

Our firm’s background in municipal law and emphasis on environmental law lets us help with septic system and sewage issues from the most elemental to the most complex.

Across the spectrum of environmental law we offer advice and representation
with practical, results-oriented lawyering.


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