Rules and Regs: Hawaiian Government Says Cesspools Will Go

In this month's regulations update, Hawaii will be converting its cesspools to better wastewater treatment systems, a bridge collapsed under a septic truck in Indianapolis, and a police chief gets fined for illegal dumping of septic waste
Rules and Regs: Hawaiian Government Says Cesspools Will Go

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There are an estimated 90,000 cesspools in use across the Hawaiian Islands, and now their days are numbered.

This spring, the Legislature passed, and Gov. David Ige signed a bill that will require most of those cesspools to be converted to septic systems or ATUs, or require those properties to connect to a municipal sewer system. This must happen by Jan. 1, 2050.

Act 125 allows for some cesspools to remain. The state health director may grant exemptions if property owners present documents showing a legitimate reason why conversion would not work. Those reasons include small lot sizes, steep topography, poor soils or problems accessing the site.

Hawaii has had a tax credit program to help people with the cost of replacing cesspool wastewater systems, and to fund it, the Legislature has set aside $5 million to help 500 people annually. Yet in 2016, the state issued only five credits, and in the first part of 2017, it issued 12.

Between now and the beginning of 2018 when the Legislature next convenes, the state Health Department must prepare a report on the number and location of cesspools throughout the state and set priorities for which need to be converted first. State agencies also must look at the feasibility of establishing a grant program to help low-income residents convert their cesspools.

News reports have noted a steady increase in the counts of fecal bacteria in Hawaii's nearshore waters. Average beach fecal bacteria counts increased fivefold from 2006 and 2016, according to West Hawaii Today.

Bridge collapsed under pumper truck in Indiana
About 2,000 gallons of wastewater spilled into Holly Creek in Indianapolis on Aug. 3 after a bridge collapsed under a pumper truck.

When the rear of the truck fell through the bridge deck, the valve on the back of the tank broke. The 4,000-gallon truck was filled with about 3,000 gallons of wastewater after pumping out a tank at a home, according to The Indianapolis Star.

The pumping company sent a second truck to the scene, and its operator vacuumed up most of the wastewater. The rest was allowed to flow downstream and be diluted in the White River.

Pam Thevenow, head of water quality and hazardous materials management for the Marion County Public Health Department, said it is up to contractors to compare the weight of loaded trucks with the strength of the bridges they will use. The department said it would not cite anyone involved in the incident because it was an accident.

Alabama police chief found guilty of illegally dumping septage
The police chief of Bay Minette was found guilty of two counts of illegally dumping sewage and will be fined $1,000 for each violation. He will also lose his pumping license, said a report from Fox 10 television in Mobile, Alabama.

Clarence Crook III was found guilty on July 25 by the Alabama Onsite Wastewater Board. At a hearing in April, an investigator for the board said Crook admitted to dumping wastewater in his pasture. Crook has not had a valid pumping license since 2013.

Michigan county voted ‘no’ on requiring POS septic inspections
Commissioners in Leelanau County, Michigan, voted down a proposed ordinance to require septic tank inspections at the time of a property sale, according to the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

One of the commissioners supporting time-of-sale inspections, Ty Wessell, said the county inspects electrical work and houses, and they should also inspect septic systems. A local watershed protection group recommended that all counties enact time-of-sale inspection ordinances.

Commissioner Tony Ansorge, who opposed the ordinance, said it was the duty of the local health department to suggest such inspections. Melinda Lautner, who chairs the board of commissioners, opposed this proposal and has opposed similar proposals made in the past. She was quoted as saying septic systems do not pose a threat, even if they do fail.

“A great majority of our county, the septic systems sit in well-drained soils,” Lautner says. “When those systems fail, it doesn’t go down to our groundwater, it actually will rise up, and that person will have a beautiful patch of green grass on their lawn.”

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency helping repair and replace failing onsite systems
Five northeastern Ohio counties will receive money from the state EPA’s Water Pollution Control Loan Fund to help people remedy failing home septic systems. The goal is to prevent wastewater from contaminating streams and groundwater.

Money for the work will come in the form of loans in which the principal will be forgiven, thus lowering payments. Depending on household income, people will receive 100, 85 or 50 percent of the cost.

The counties — Cuyahoga, Holmes, Lake, Lorain, and Portage — will identify which homes have failing systems and whether the systems should be replaced or repaired. Residents can apply to their local health departments for consideration.

Amish fighting septic requirements in Minnesota
Several members of an Amish community in Minnesota appeared in court in July to defend themselves against charges that they violated county orders to install septic systems on their properties.

Attorneys for the state argued that the Amish should be held in contempt of court for failing to follow previous court orders to install septic systems. The core of the Amish defense was their religious beliefs, according to the Rochester Post-Bulletin.

Modern, worldly technology is not allowed by their religion, said the defendants. They cited Romans 12:2, which advises Christians not to conform to the world but to transform their minds in order to discern the will of God.

“We feel that any type of septic system is a way of the world, and we do not conform to the way of the world,” says Emery Miller, one of the 15 defendants.

The Amish properties in question get water from a gravity-feed system and discharge wastewater directly onto the ground.

Mount Rushmore hotel loses permit because of faulty septic
In early July, the U.S. EPA issued a final denial of a wastewater injection permit sought by The Lodge at Mount Rushmore in Keystone, South Dakota. As a result of the denial, the 50-room hotel was prohibited from using its septic system and could not open for the season.

Septic system issues at the hotel date back to at least 2015, when a neighbor complained of smelly water surfacing from one of the hotel’s drainfields, according to the Rapid City Journal.

Pennington County eventually took the problem to court, and it and the hotel reached agreement that the hotel would remain closed until it could obtain all necessary permits. EPA documents said the hotel’s owner, Winona Inn Limited Partnership, had not done enough to show the system could be operated safely.

Inspection of onsite systems meets pushback in California
Undocumented onsite systems along a 25-mile stretch of the Russian River in California would be inspected under a plan of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, according to Sonoma West Times & News.

Inspections would occur on properties within 600 feet of the river as it flows through northern California wine country from Healdsburg to Monte Rio. Concerned real estate brokers asked for a meeting with officials to discuss how property owners would be affected by the costs needed to repair or replace systems that fail inspections.

A preliminary assessment of properties in Monte Rio six years ago found no record of wastewater disposal plans or permits for most of them. A plan proposed two years ago listed that stretch of the river as a high-priority area where septic system problems contributed to high bacteria levels in the river. That plan was abandoned in the face of opposition from residents.

Prince Edward Island man fined for installing without license
A man who said he couldn’t take a certification course was fined $500 in July for installing a septic system without a license, according to The Guardian in Charlottetown.

Allan Emmett MacDonald, 65, pleaded guilty to the charge in provincial court in Charlottetown. He told the court he had been in the wastewater business for 40 years and was licensed then, but he stopped working for a time after he lost a foot in an accident. He said he couldn’t take a course for a new license because he did not have a 12th grade education.

MacDonald has more than $7,000 in unpaid fines, including a $200 fine for the same offense in 2015. The judge also placed MacDonald on probation for two years and added a condition that he not install any wastewater systems unless he has a license.


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