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Inaccurate Septic Failure Map from Woodard & Curran

The following map was distributed to homeowners at a West Acton Sewer Committee meeting:

This map was distributed by Joseph Shea, Senior V.P., and Jack Troidl, Project Manager, of Woodard & Curran, the sewer company that was the primary author of the CWRMP. The map purports to show "Septic Replacements & Failures" in the proposed sewer district, but is misleading and inaccurate.

First, let's briefly discuss septic repairs. Repairs fall into two categories, major and minor. Minor repairs, designated “MR” in permitting, comprise repairs such as pipe, distribution box and tank replacement. These repairs are less costly and extensive than major repairs. Major repairs, designated “RR” for “Remedial Repair” in permitting, consist of leachfield replacement and complete system replacement after failure. In the CWRMP, major (“RR”) repairs are considered to be septic replacements and are indicative of system failure [Phase I, page 5-25]. New construction, on the other hand, is permitted as “NR” or “NC.” This label is applied when a septic system is installed for a new home or building, or when renovation increases the number of bedrooms beyond current system design.

Now let's return to Woodard & Curran's map. Below, numbers have been added to each of the red dots:

To find out whether red dots represent actual septic failures, the addresses with red dots were compared with Acton Health Department records. We found that seven of the twenty addresses with red dots had no septic failures. Below, a blue background indicates addresses with only minor repairs, while a green background indicates no repairs of any kind on record.

In addition, we noticed that where septic failures did occur, they often occurred after the septic system was at least several decades old.

Aside from the inaccurate assigning of red dots to parcels, the map is misleading for another reason: red dots are only plotted inside the proposed sewer district. At first glance, this gives the mistaken impression that failures occur more frequently in the proposed district than outside it.

It should be noted that Woodard & Curran's failure map has been used to assert that West Acton needs sewers. Below is an excerpt from meeting minutes:

“Map 4 (septic failure/replacement): number is reason for selection of Area 12/West Acton for sewering. [...] Mr. Rice asked how needs areas were identified. Mr. Troidl explained that it was based on septic-failure numbers...”

Other than the inaccurate map from Woodard & Curran, we have seen no indication that West Acton has a higher septic fail rate. In fact, twenty-one years of Title V inspections suggest that West Acton has a lower fail rate.


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