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Alternate Design Septic System Program


The Pinelands Commission is a pioneer in testing high-performance wastewater treatment systems that better protect Pinelands water resources. 

In 2000, the Commission formed a special Ad Hoc Septic System Committee to research alternate septic system technologies that might better meet the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP)'s water quality standards for residential development on lots smaller than 3.2 acres.

The water quality requirements of the CMP include provisions that are aimed at controlling the amount of nitrogen that enters the environment because nitrogen is a significant pollutant and because it often serves as an indicator of changes in overall water quality.

Alternate design technologies reduce total nitrogen levels in treated wastewater and are required to meet stringent water quality standards where existing zoning authorizes unsewered development on minimum one-acre parcels.

In its research efforts, the Committee consulted wastewater engineering professionals, state and regional on-site technology demonstration projects, alternate treatment system technology manufacturers, Pinelands Area county health departments and other state and local agencies.

Based on this research, the Committee identified five residential wastewater treatment technologies that were reported to be capable of meeting Pinelands water quality standards on lots smaller than 3.2 acres in size. The identified technologies were the Amphidrome, Ashco RFSIII, Cromaglass, Bioclere and FAST treatment systems. All of the identified systems utilize proven biological nutrient removal processes to reduce nitrogen levels in treated wastewater.

Based upon reported nitrogen removal efficiencies and the Pinelands Septic Dilution Model, the Committee concluded that, subject to verification via the pilot program, the Amphidrome, Cromaglass, Bioclere and FAST systems could be permitted on lots of at least one acre and that the Ashco RFSIII system could be allowed on residential lots of at least 1.5 acres. 

The Ad Hoc Septic System Committee unanimously recommended that an interim program be developed for the approval, installation and monitoring of the five identified wastewater treatment technologies and that the program include conditions and safeguards to govern their use. The recommendations are contained in the Ad Hoc Committee's April 2000 report. To implement these recommendations, the Commission amended the CMP in 2002 to establish the Alternate Design Treatment Systems Pilot Program.

The Pilot Program was implemented to provide a means to test whether the five identified technologies could be maintained and operated so as to meet the water quality standards of the CMP in a manner that a homeowner can be reasonably expected to follow. Implementation of the Pilot Program commenced in August 2002, with the first pilot program treatment system installed and brought on line in April 2004.  A total of 292 Pilot Program systems have been installed in the Pinelands Area through June 5, 2016.  

Commission staff members produce an annual report that summarizes system installation and monitoring data each year. Staff members also deliver a presentation on the program each year. In addition, three implementation reports have been completed since the establishment of the Pilot Program. In the 2006 report, the Executive Director recommended that one of the technologies (Ashco RFSIII) should be removed from the pilot program and that the pilot program be extended by an additional three years (through August 2010) to allow for the collection of additional data. The Commission adopted amendments to the CMP to implement these recommendations in 2007.

In the November 2009 implementation report, the Executive Director recommended that the Amphidrome and Bioclere treatment technologies be granted permanent approval status, that the Pilot Program be extended for the Cromaglass and FAST treatment technologies by an additional three years (through August 2013) to allow for the collection and analysis of additional data, and that the Pilot Program be expanded to permit additional prescreened technologies to participate in the pilot program through August 2016. The Commission adopted amendments to the CMP to implement these recommendations in 2010.  In accordance with these amendments, four new technologies, Hoot ANR, SeptiTech, BioBarrier and Busse Green MBR, were approved for participation in the Pilot Program in September 2011.

In the November 2012 implementation report, the Executive Director recommended that the Pilot Program again be extended for two of the original five pilot program systems, Cromaglass and FAST, in order to provide for the further evaluation of systems that had been modified by the manufacturers to improve performance. The Executive Director later recommended that the Cromaglass technology be removed from the Pilot Program entirely, with no further installations permitted due to the system's inability to meet Pinelands water quality standards. Amendments to the CMP to implement these recommendations were adopted and took effect in September 2014.

Also in 2014, the Commission increased the minimum lot size required when a Bio-Microbics FAST system is proposed for residential use in the Pinelands Area. Previously authorized for use on 1.0 acre lots, a minimum lot size of 1.5 acres is now required, based upon system monitoring results and the Pinelands Septic Dilution Model. Details on the Commission’s determination are provided in the FAST Public Notice, which was also published in the New Jersey Register on October 20, 2014.

Because the Pilot Program systems are technologically sophisticated, care must also be taken to properly operate and maintain them on a long-term basis. With help from a DEP grant, in November 2006, the Pinelands Commission retained a consultant with expertise in septic system management to investigate options for their management in the Pinelands. The consultant analyzed the existing regulatory framework pertaining to the operation and management of onsite wastewater systems. This included a review of State statutes and regulations, local ordinances and practices, and regional and sub-regional institutional entities (utility authorities, environmental health agencies, etc.) that could play a role in the long-term management of septic systems. Based on this review, the CMP was amended in 2009 to establish new management standards for advanced wastewater treatment systems in the Pinelands. The rules set forth a series of measures that provide for the long-term maintenance of "alternative" or advanced treatment systems, including certification that these systems are in good repair and are functioning properly.

More recently, in April 2012, the NJDEP amended its "Standards for Individual Subsurface Sewage Disposal Systems" to require advanced pretreatment system owners to maintain a service contract throughout the life of the systems and to require administrative authorities (typically County Health Departments) to maintain a tracking system to manage contract information, maintenance activities and to submit annual reports on these systems to NJDEP. Advanced pretreatment systems that are not covered under a valid service contract are defined by NJDEP as non-compliant systems and are subject to enforcement action under the New Jersey Water Pollution Control Act.

Finally, in its August 2016 annual report, the Commission staff recommended increasing the minimum lot size required when a SeptiTech or BioBarrier system is proposed for residential use in the Pinelands Area. Previously authorized for use on 1.0 acre lots, a minimum lot size of 1.7 acres is now required, based upon system monitoring results and the Pinelands Septic Dilution Model. Details on the Commission’s determination are provided in the Public Notice, which was also published in the New Jersey Register on October 3, 2016.

For more information about the Pilot Program, please contact Ed Wengrowski, Environmental Technologies Coordinator, at wastewater@njpines.state.nj.us.

January 2013 NJ DEP - Permit to Construct and Operate Treatment Works

Program Fact Sheet

Note and Facts related to the use of Cromaglass an "Alternate design" septic system in the Pinelands Area

System Vendor Information (List)

April 2000 Staff Report to the Ad Hoc Septic System Committee