In this month's regulations update, California prepares for direct potable reuse of wastewater, and a revision of Ontario's building code calls for stricter septic pumping rules


As part of a wide-ranging revision of its building code, the province of Ontario is proposing a stricter rule for the pumping of septic tanks.

The present rule requires pumping when sludge and scum occupy one-third of working capacity. The proposed change would require pumping at the one-third level or every five years, whichever comes first. Anyone who operates such a system would also be required to keep records of the cleanings.

Provincial officials acknowledge this will impose costs on property owners and on municipalities that will manage enforcement, but they also say current code does not require regular pumping.

Related: Guest Blog: Regular Septic Tank Pumping Puts Money in Your Pocket

Opposition to the proposed change has already sprouted. All six rural communities surrounding Thunder Bay, Ontario, on the northern shore of Lake Superior, passed resolutions opposing the proposal. News reports said the communities are asking the province to exempt rural residential homeowners.

"We all know when it's time to have our septic tanks pumped out, and we pump it out," said Mayor Lucy Kloosterhuis of Oliver-Paipoonge. Her tank has not been pumped since 2006.


California prepares for direct potable reuse of wastewater
California’s multiyear drought was officially declared over on April 7, but the Legislature is on the verge of making the state a pioneer in the direct reuse of wastewater for potable consumption.

Related: Rules and Regs: Maryland Governor to Reintroduce Septic System Ban

A bill in the General Assembly would require the state Water Resources Control Board to formulate uniform state standards for potable reuse by Dec. 31, 2021. By June 1, 2018, the board would have to adopt a framework for the regulation of potable reuse projects.

AB 547 is sponsored by Rep. Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), who chairs the Legislature’s Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee. According to a fact sheet prepared by committee staff, the bill has the support of 42 environmental groups, utilities and municipalities. Among them are the U.S. Green Building Council, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and the California Association of Sanitation Agencies.

There are no regulations in the country governing direct potable reuse, and California will need to expand its use of recycled water in order to meet projected demand. A report on the issue to the Legislature by the water board says the state’s population is expected to increase from the current 39 million to about 50 million by the year 2049. The board’s report found only two direct potable reuse projects operating in the world, one in Namibia and the other in Texas.

Related: Rules and Regs: Michigan Supreme Court Accepts Appeal of Public Sewer Requirement

While the Legislature is working on the bill, water board experts are working on concerns raised in the report, said board spokesman Andrew DiLuccia. Those include developing methods to monitor pathogens in raw wastewater and establish maximum counts for recycled water, and developing methods to identify unknown contaminants that may not be removed by advanced treatment.

As part of the response to the most recent drought, California Gov. Jerry Brown ordered a statewide cut of 25 percent in urban water use.


Florida septic inspections bill gets a makeover after facing opposition
Rules & Regs previously reported on a bill in the Florida Legislature that would have mandated septic system inspections when a property is sold. The bill cleared committee, but not before its sponsor removed the inspection requirement.

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Rep. Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay) changed the bill to require only that a seller tell a buyer whether a property has a septic system. Buyers would have to sign a form saying they understand systems need to be inspected and pumped every three to five years because they can contribute to the pollution of groundwater. Inspections would be voluntary. News reports said Fine altered the bill after it attracted opposition from other lawmakers and the real estate industry. 

The bill would also order the state Health Department to create, by January 2019, a statewide database and map of existing septic systems. Fine said there are an estimated 2 to 3 million septic systems in the state, and an estimated 10 percent of them are malfunctioning.


Texas county requires water studies before land development
Johnson County will now require water studies when developers make plat applications if the land to be developed will be served by a private well. Developers will be required to carry out a hydrology study to ensure that enough water is available to support the number of homes proposed. The cost of such studies is $20,000 to $30,000.

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The rules apply only to new home construction in unincorporated areas of the county.

“It’s an expensive process,” said David Disheroon, the county’s Public Works director. “But it’s something that has to be done to preserve and protect our water supplies.”

News reports quoted County Commissioner Rick Bailey as saying the goal is to protect consumers whose investment in a property may last for decades.

The rules are intended to apply to large parcels of land, Disheroon said. People wishing to subdivide smaller parcels, such as 10 acres, can seek a waiver.


New bill in Tennessee aligns state farming waste rules with federal regulations
A bill in the state Legislature would roll back state regulations on farms so that only those with animal waste actually polluting groundwater would be subject to state oversight. If it passes, the bill would make Tennessee rules consistent with federal regulations.

Tennessee regulations currently require farms with 200 or more dairy cows to obtain state permits that govern the storage and disposal of animal waste. Farms with pigs, chickens and other animals would also be affected.

News reports quoted Tish Calabrese Benton, director of water quality at the state Department of Environment and Conservation, as saying the department’s ability to protect waterways would be reduced if the state adopts the less-strict federal standard. The department currently permits 332 animal feeding operations. Only 15 of those have permits under the federal Clean Water Act.

For the agricultural industry, it’s a matter of cost and competitiveness. Plans for waste disposal facilities can cost $8,000 to $10,000. But according to state and federal statistics, agricultural businesses are the leading cause of pollution of the 27 miles of impaired waterways in Tennessee.


Wyoming conservation district offering subsidy for onsite system maintenance
To help educate the public about water quality, the Teton Conservation District is offering a subsidy for cleaning septic systems.

The conservation district is in Teton County, which lies in the northwestern corner of the state and incorporates land around Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks. The program offers homeowners a 50 percent reimbursement, up to $150, for cleaning systems that have not been maintained for at least five years.

“We’re doing it because septic systems pose a threat to human and environmental health,” said Carlin Girard, a water resources specialist for the conservation district. “Septic system maintenance is an opportunity to mitigate that risk, and by offering the reimbursement we are hoping to raise awareness about the topic.”

No one knows how many septic systems there are in the county or where they are located. A recent U.S. Geological Survey study found septic systems account for about 4 percent of the nitrogen and 5 percent of phosphorus in the watershed of the troubled Fish Creek.


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