The Maryland Onsite Wastewater Professionals Association has taken up the cause for the industry in the face of a proposal from Governor Martin O’Malley that would severely restrict development on septic systems.
O’Malley on Feb. 3 called for a crackdown on housing projects served by septic systems as part of an effort to control suburban sprawl and protect the Chesapeake Bay from nitrogen pollution. He made the proposal in his State of the State address.
As of Feb. 18 as this issue of Onsite Installer went to press, MOWPA had not yet formulated a position on the governor’s proposed legislation, but the group had convened a meeting involving its board members with representatives of the Maryland Homebuilders Association and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
The Baltimore Sun reported, “Speaking to lawmakers, O’Malley said that pollution from homes being built with septic systems is undercutting Maryland’s efforts to clean up the bay.
“While the state has moved to curb pollution from farms and sewage treatment plants, the governor said, ‘There is one area of reducing pollution where so far we have totally failed, and in fact it has gotten much worse, and that is pollution from the proliferation of new septic systems — systems which by their very design are intended to leak sewage into our bay and water tables.’
“He urged lawmakers to enact a statewide ban on ‘major’ housing developments that use septic systems, calling it ‘common sense’ and ‘urgently needed.’ Administration officials said later that developments with as few as six homes would be affected by the proposed ban.”
The newspaper reported that builders and some rural legislators said such a ban could stifle growth in rural areas and lead to layoffs among home builders, septic system contractors and other real-estate-related businesses.
MOWPA president Dave Duree said the group was working with its members and industry allies toward helping to craft a fair and reasonable bill that would enable cost-effective wastewater treatment for rural developments while also protecting the bay.
The state Environmental Protection Agency drafted a general NPDES permit to set water quality and management standards for direct discharge from 1,500 gpd buried or recirculating sand filters, waste stabilization ponds, and aerobic treatment plants listed by NSF for Class I effluent. If the state does not adopt the standards, the legislation will prohibit direct discharge from these systems on Jan. 1, 2013.
Direct discharging represents more than 40 percent of annual state onsite permits, and estimates place the number of existing systems at more than 150,000.
The Gilpin County Board of Health adopted new onsite regulations that require more thorough site characterizations for system designs and time-of-sale pumping and inspection of systems more than five years old. Inspectors must be NAWT-certified or equivalent, and violations must be corrected before closing. That includes abandonment of cesspools and straight pipes when found. Extensive outreach is underway to inform local engineers and real estate associations of the new requirements.
The state legislature passed a bill that delayed implementation of Senate Bill 550 from Jan. 1 to July 1, 2011. The bill would require all of the state’s estimated 2.6 million septic tanks to be inspected every five years and brought into compliance with strict health department regulations by 2016.
Lawmakers expect to repeal SB 550 in March. State Sen. Don Gaetz and Rep. Clay Ford fought to repeal inspections because most would be unnecessary. Rep. Marti Coley filed legislation to repeal inspections in the 2011 session. The decision also delays the Department of Health mandate to test water tables as part of the inspections.
The Rapid City council proposed changing the city’s onsite system inspection program to mirror the one in Pennington County, thereby eliminating the overlap in city and county jurisdiction. If approved, the frequency of inspections and permit costs for onsite systems would be lowered to match those in the county.
The city operating permit fee is $125 with inspections every three years. Outside city limits, the fee is $20 with inspections every six years. The city also charges $150 to permit new systems and $125 to repair systems, compared with the county’s $300 per system. The city oversees 3,150 onsite systems. If approved, the changes would go into effect 20 days after publication.
The state Environmental Management Commission approved regulations to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in Falls Lake, Wake County’s largest source of drinking water. The law, which took effect Jan. 15, covers new and existing development with sewer and onsite systems discharging to the watershed. The two-stage program will put the lake in compliance within 30 years, time enough for local governments to determine whether the rules work as designed.
City of Grand Rapids commissioners compromised with eight suburbs after consulting with onsite installers and well drillers. Instead of requiring residents within 200 feet of a municipal water and sewer line to hook to it if their well or onsite system failed, they now have the option to replace them if they fit on the property. The Utility Advisory Board also approved the rules. Installers and drillers objected to the original version, saying it would cost homeowners up to $30,000 to tie into the city system.