Rules and Regs: Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund Upgrades Maryland Onsite Systems

In this month’s regulations update, the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund contributes to onsite system upgrades and maintenance, and a biosolids land-spreading case is addressed by New York's highest court
Rules and Regs: Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund Upgrades Maryland Onsite Systems

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Maryland has upgraded 6,550 septic systems to the best available technology through the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund since 2010. Nearly 3,800 of them were in critical water-quality areas, according to the Bay Restoration Fund Advisory Committee annual report issued in January. The new systems must be inspected and maintained annually. There are about 420,000 septic systems in the state, with 52,000 of them in critical areas.

Enhanced nutrient removal upgrades have also been completed at 35 major wastewater treatment plants with another 20 under construction, 10 in the design phase and two more in planning. All but five of the state’s plants are expected to be upgraded by 2017. 

COWA supporting bill to allow more water reuse

The California Onsite Water Association is backing a bill to loosen the state’s laws on the use of onsite water recycling systems. COWA says the bill protects public health while reducing barriers preventing the use of water-saving technologies at a time when the state is suffering from drought and water shortages. AB 1463 would require the State Water Resources Control Board to establish water-quality standards along with distribution, monitoring and reporting requirements.

In a letter to the bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Glendale), COWA says more can be done to encourage the reuse of recycled water. “Our reuse laws were originally drafted many years ago, before the 30-plus years of technological advances in this rapidly changing industry. It is becoming more and more apparent that the regulations … are not keeping up with the changing world. Our current reuse regulations are possibly the most restrictive in the world and are a barrier to maximizing the use of our limited water resources.”

In order to broaden its vision, the group recently dropped the term “wastewater” from its name. Now called the California Onsite Water Association to recognize the value of all decentralized onsite waters, the group is encouraging more use of graywater, stormwater and rainwater. The COWA letter also supports legislation to allow the reuse of blackwater to help ease the state’s water problems. 

California State Water Board issues water-saving rules

The state of California issued emergency orders on April 1 to achieve a 25 percent reduction in the use of potable urban water from 2013 levels. Actions include replacing 50 million square feet of lawns and ornamental turf with drought-tolerant landscaping, initiating a rebate program to replace inefficient household devices, a prohibition on the use of potable water irrigation of public street medians, new requirements to increase agricultural water savings, and investing in new technologies for businesses, residents, industries and agriculture. Two days later, the State Water Board issued its second warning of the year that many of the 36,000 holders of water rights in California could expect curtailments this year.

Land-spreading ban addressed by New York Supreme Court

Legislators are asking the New York State Department of Health to conduct its own study of the public health and environmental effects of land-spreading biosolids from human waste. Some local governments are seeking to ban the practice, though there is disagreement over local jurisdiction versus state law. The Department of Environmental Conservation has endorsed the practice, which requires a permit.

The Town of Wheatfield’s ban on land-spreading is now before the State Supreme Court in a challenge filed by Quasar Energy Group, which operates an anaerobic digester in the town. At least 15 state legislators are seeking a DEH study that is independent from those already conducted by DEC, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Quasar that found the practice to be safe.

Report recommends onsite regulations in Ohio to protect Lake Erie

Taking cues from the cleanup efforts for the Chesapeake Bay, the idea of a regional water authority is being discussed for northwest Ohio, northeast Indiana, and southeast Michigan to protect Lake Erie. The action is one recommendation in a new report, Moving Forward: Legal Solutions to Lake Erie’s Harmful Algal Blooms.

The report from the Lucas County commissioners also recommends new rules for farms and wastewater treatment plants and funding to help county health departments enforce onsite wastewater system regulations. While algae blooms are natural on Lake Erie, they have been a major issue since 2003. Toledo’s drinking water system was shut down in August 2014 due to the presence of toxins, leaving half a million people without water for two days. There has been no formal recommendation to form the water authority at this point.

In April, Gov. John Kasich signed legislation increasing the regulation of farmers and the state’s largest wastewater treatment plants to help improve water quality. There are not yet any plans for how to pay for the steps needed to meet the new regulations. Farmers may have to build manure storage facilities due to the ban on land-spreading on frozen or rain-soaked fields. The state plans to seek voter approval of a bond issue to provide funding assistance, including repairs to faulty septic systems.

Nova Scotia onsite system program defunded due to budget deficit

The Nova Scotia Environmental Home Assessment Program has been defunded by the provincial government. Launched in 2006, it provided home assessments of water and wastewater systems, $100 rebates on septic pumping, and grants up to $3,000 for repair or replacement of failed septic systems. Grants awarded last year will be honored if the work has not yet been completed. The program was among those cut to fill a $97.6 million provincial budget deficit.

More changes proposed for onsite regulations in Idaho

The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality is considering more changes to its onsite wastewater regulations. After updating its rules a few times last year, the agency is now recommending changes involving floating vault toilets and vessel sewage disposal, specifications for pit run material, and secondary biological treatment system hydraulic application rates. The recent updates to the Technical Guidance Manual for Individual and Subsurface Sewage Disposal Systems are intended to ensure the document reflects current public health standards.

Alaska DEC will provide a new onsite installation manual

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has proposed several changes to onsite wastewater regulations. While mostly a housecleaning move to correct minor errors and update obsolete information, the effort will also include a new installer’s manual, to be renamed the Onsite Wastewater System Installation Manual (formerly known as the Installer’s Manual for Conventional Onsite Domestic Wastewater and Disposal Systems). In its public notice, the agency says the manual is being “substantially reorganized and updated” to make it more usable as a field guide. Meetings, hearings and the public comment period take place this spring with final approval to follow.


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