DARTMOUTH, Mass. (WPRI) — Dozens of Dartmouth residents attended a meeting Tuesday night to learn more about a proposal that would require them to upgrade their septic systems.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management (DEP) is proposing the changes in an effort to control the amount of nitrogen pollution entering waterways.

But Dartmouth Board of Health Director Christopher Michaud said the proposal could financially impact approximately 2,000 residents living in nitrogen sensitive areas.

“These regulations really are cruel on people,” Michaud said. “I choose my words carefully … they’re cruel because they overlook the impact this is going to have on every household.”

Michaud said it could cost homeowners upwards of $50,000 to upgrade their septic systems, and that doesn’t include the cost of maintaining it.

“That’s just an estimate at this time,” he said. “What we’re seeing with inflation, and if we see a big rush on this … prices will only go up.”

The DEP said the single-largest source of nitrogen in Buzzards Bay comes from septic systems.

That nitrogen, according to the DEP, not only harms fish and shellfish populations, but it can also lead to the growth of algae and invasive plants.

The proposed regulation changes wouldn’t just affect residents in Dartmouth. Those living in select coastal areas, including Westport, Fall River and New Bedford, would also be required to comply.

Michaud calls the proposed changes arbitrary, which is a sentiment echoed by concerned residents.

“Why aren’t we regulating people fertilizing their lawns?” Dartmouth resident Jane Folkman questioned. “We’re going to cause people that have septic systems to pay a lion’s share of this? It just doesn’t make sense.”

The DEP is hosting three public hearings on the proposed regulation changes, with the first being Wednesday in Lakeville.

Michaud is urging everyone to get involved.

“Don’t rely on everyone else,” he said. “Don’t think your voice doesn’t matter … I have seen it firsthand, when people band together and speak up, it makes a difference.”

Michaud said the Dartmouth Board of Health will be providing rides to residents who want to attend Wednesday’s hearing in person. The DEP is also accepting written comments through Dec. 16.