Unacceptable waste treatment.
The primitive cesspool — a 55-gallon drum with holes in its sides — is a danger to public health. Illustration by John Githinji and Page Carr
A brick and concrete block cesspool that drains contaminants into Charlestown's groundwater

Charlestown Cesspool Phase-out Program











A cesspool is nothing more than a covered pit that receives wastewater and allows it to drain into the surrounding soils. This might be a stone-walled pit, perforated concrete chamber, or leaking steel tank. Cesspools don't treat wastewater. Solids and liquids seep directly through the soil into the groundwater.  This poses a threat to surrounding bodies of water and nearby drinking wells. 

Therefore, the Town of Charlestown requires that all cesspools be removed and replaced with a system that is suitable for the Wastewater Management District. 

To date approximately 99.9% of all cesspools have been eliminated in Charlestown.

On March 9th, 2009, the Charlestown Town Council approved an amendment to Ordinance #210. The Wastewater Management Commission drafted this amendment to extend the preexisting cesspool phase-out deadline of May 10, 2009. Cesspool phaseout dates are identified in Ordinance # 330

The Town was divided into five Zones based on proximity to critical resources and each Zone was assigned a year for cesspool replacement. The Cesspool Phaseout Zones and properties with cesspools remaining are illustrated on the Cesspool Phase-Out Prioritization Map

The Cesspool Phase out dates were:

May 2010 – Zone 1 – Cesspools located within 200-feet of the inland edge of all shoreline features bordering tidal water areas (i.e., the Rhode Island Coastal Resource’s Management Council’s (CRMC) jurisdiction,

May 2012– Zone 2
– Cesspools located within the CRMC Salt Pond Region Special Area Management Plan (SAMP)/RIDEM Salt Pond Critical Resource Area (CRA) and defined by CRMC as Lands Developed Beyond Carrying Capacity,

May 2013
– Zone 3 – Cesspools located within the remainder of the CRMC Salt Pond Region SAMP/RIDEM Salt Pond CRA, and cesspools that are located within the Inner-Protection Radii of any State of Rhode Island Department of Health Licensed Public Drinking Water Supply Well,

May 2013 – Zone 4
– Cesspools located within the RIDEM defined wellhead protection areas of all public, community or non-community drinking water wells and within 200-feet of a freshwater surface water body (ponds or streams, not including wetlands) and,

May 2014 – Zone 5 – The remainder of the Town.
The Ordinance allows for the alternative non-monetary enforcement option of recording a Notice of Violation with the land evidence records, which would be released upon the remedy of the violation. Notices from the Wastewater Management Office were submitted to all cesspool owners indicating their Zone and the associated required date for cesspool replacement. Failure to comply with the Notice of Violation results in referral to the Town's Solicitors office for appropriate enforcement action through the Charlestown Municipal Court System.
Since all cesspool phaseout dates have passed, all remaining cesspools are now considered "In Violation" of Town Ordinance. All known remaining cesspools (currently 11 remaining town wide) are being managed through the Charlestown Municipal Court and the Town's Enforcement Officer. In the rare case of any newly identified cesspool discovered as part of required inspection process the property owner is granted one year to remove and replace the cesspool, as required. 
The Wastewater Management Commission has implemented a "Financial Hardship Policy" to provide temporary relief from the policy for those in financial hardship. For more information on a financial hardship waiver please contact the Wastewater Management Office
Below is a graph detailing the numbers of cesspools in Charlestown from 2008 to present. It is estimated that the number of cesspools in Charlestown at the inception of the Wastewater Management Program in 1994 was well over 1,000.