The Dukes County commission voted this week to dedicate $1.4 million to help all seven towns in the county install innovative septic systems designed to prevent nitrogen from seeping into fragile saltwater ponds and estuaries.

The funding will reimburse or help cover the costs of systems for homeowners who otherwise can’t tie into sewer systems.

Commissioners voted to create the program at their meeting Wednesday. The decision caps two years of debate over how to allocate roughly $3.3 million in pandemic relief funding received by the county through the American Rescue Plan Act.

Grants were awarded previously to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and the Martha’s Vineyard Airport, also for septic upgrade programs.

The county project will dedicate $315,000 to each of the three down-Island towns (Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven) while $180,000 will go to West Tisbury, $135,000 to Chilmark, $90,000 to Aquinnah, $45,000 to the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and $45,000 to Gosnold.

“This is going to have a direct impact on the nitrogen loading and health of all of our island ponds,” said county commissioner Peter Wharton at the meeting. “It’s huge.”

The county has wrestled for more than a year with the project that will use the remainder ARPA funds. Recently county officials began working with state agencies to ensure it could pay vendors directly for homeowner projects without running afoul of state procurement laws.

Direct vendor payments aim to help homeowners who may not be able to shoulder up-front costs of the systems while waiting for a reimbursement.

“For me, in my time as a county commissioner, this is the most exciting thing we’ve ever done,” said commissioner Don Leopold.

The grants could cover both the costs of designing an innovative septic system, as well as installation.

Individual towns will solicit property owners who are interested in participating in the program. Eligible properties should lie in an impaired watershed.

Beyond the down-Island main population centers, nearly all Vineyard homes rely on individual onsite septic disposal systems. The project comes as the state considers potentially new stringent wastewater regulations that could trigger millions of dollars of mandatory upgrades.

Standard septic systems cannot stop nitrogen from leaching into the groundwater.

Excess nitrogen has begun degrading saltwater ponds around the Island in recent decades.

A study published last year found that more than half the nitrogen polluting Great Ponds along the south shore of the Vineyard was coming from wastewater.