Rules and Regs: Septic Systems Shut Down Due to High Water Levels in Lake Michigan

In this month's regulations update, Michigan counties consider point-of-sale inspection requirements, and Lake Michigan rises high enough to flood septic systems along the shore
Rules and Regs: Septic Systems Shut Down Due to High Water Levels in Lake Michigan

Interested in Education/Training?

Get Education/Training articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Education/Training + Get Alerts

The LaPorte County (Indiana) Health Board took steps to shut down septic systems and halt construction because of rising water levels in Lake Michigan.

In 2013, the lake hit a record low, but it has since rebounded, although this summer’s high was still 2 feet below the record set in 1986. Yet, the water is high enough to flood septic systems along the shore.

As a result, two property owners in the community of Long Beach, about 2 miles from the Indiana-Michigan border, were ordered to shut down their septic systems. Their tanks will become holding tanks that must be pumped out regularly. The health board also put a moratorium on permits for any new systems to be built next to the lake, and it revoked two permits issued for systems not yet built, reports the Michigan City News-Dispatch.

Several years ago, the Indiana Health Department revised its septic system placement rule to allow systems within 50 feet of the lake if the waste was pretreated. Previously, the limit was 200 feet. Patricia Sharkey of the Long Beach Community Alliance, a community group, says some property owners rushed to take advantage of the relaxed rule.

“Our organization has long had concerns about septic systems being located too close to the water,” she says. “What we’re seeing is the result of that policy.”

Massachusetts town rejects proposed onsite system for laundromat
A Cape Cod town rejected a proposed onsite treatment system for a laundromat. Instead, the town says it would work with the developer and the Sandwich Water District to pursue a better long-term solution.

Developer Thomas Tsakalos tells officials in the town of Sandwich that he wants to build an onsite system to treat water from the laundromat and discharge it into the ground. But, town bylaws prohibited such a discharge because the area is a protected water district.

Tsakalos tells officials those bylaws were written before the advent of modern treatment technology that can return wastewater to potable condition. He says he would use such technology for the 30,000 gpd flow from the laundromat, reports The Sandwich Enterprise.

Dan Mahoney, superintendent of the water district, says there were other concerns. He acknowledges the frustrations with current rules but says water commissioners are also worried about allowing pharmaceuticals and other contaminants of emerging concern to reach groundwater.

County in Washington needs water supply at septage station to continue accepting waste
Kittitas County, which lies about 85 miles east of Seattle is having difficulty screening septage received from local haulers.

The bar screen that removes large debris has 3/8-inch openings, and there is no water at the receiving station to clean the screen, reports the Daily Record in Ellensburg. The county accepts about 1.2 million gallons of septage annually.

County commissioners request county staff to investigate options for a water supply. That could be drilling a well or hauling in water.

Michigan counties considering point-of-sale inspection requirements
A proposal for a Leelanau County septic ordinance was turned down once, but the county commissioner who proposed the idea says commissioners are now open to considering the idea again.

In July, county commissioner Ty Wessell asked for the creation of a committee to research and write an ordinance that would include required inspections. But that idea failed to gain support among his fellow commissioners, reports the Traverse City Record-Eagle. Leelanau County occupies a peninsula in Lake Michigan on the northwestern side of the state’s lower peninsula.

Now, Wessell says commissioners are open to a recommendation from the health department operated jointly by Leelanau County and adjacent Benzie County. Tom Fountain, the health department’s director of environmental health, says rules cover new construction adequately but not older systems that could be covered by a point of sale inspection. He says there is talk that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder may push for a statewide point-of-sale rule before he leaves office at the end of this term.

Legislation may allow septic systems in reserve areas in Maryland’s Harford County
Harford County will allow some construction on land that otherwise is reserved for expansion of an onsite system’s drainfield or replacement of a failing drainfield.

Under the legislation, the county health department could grant waivers for commercial or residential property owners to build in these septic reserve areas, reports The Baltimore Sun. Additions to existing structures, driveways and parking lots are among the construction that may be allowed if the property owners ensure their systems are working properly and meet all county and state requirements.

Only Councilman Chad Shrodes voted against the rule. He says waivers for commercial properties were fine, but he worried that residential property owners may not be able to afford the cost of demolishing a structure in order to repair a failing system, and he says some people may not know a previous owner built in a septic reserve area. In the past, Shrodes has supported legislation that reduced the area required for reserves. He says this rule further constricts property owners.

Another Long Island, New York, village pushes for BAT for new systems and repairs
The village of Southampton proposed legislation that would require state-of-the-art wastewater treatment technology for all new construction and some renovations. The same technology would be required for substantial changes to an existing onsite system.

The village is on the eastern end of Long Island and is part of Suffolk County where a number of communities, as well as the county itself, have been pushing or requiring better onsite technology to reduce the nitrogen load in nearshore waters of Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean.

The proposed rule would not require an upgrade to existing systems unless there are plans for a new system or an expansion of a dwelling that increases the number of bedrooms, reports The Southampton Press.

Citizen outrage nixes plan for sewer construction
Because of public outrage over the cost, the Town Council in Coventry, Rhode Island, voted to suspend a sewer construction program. Coventry is on the edge of the urban area around Providence and touches the Connecticut border.

Citizens complained about the cost of hooking into municipal sewer service and leaving their onsite systems behind. The cost to join municipal sewer service was estimated at more than $20,000 per property, reports The Coventry Courier. More than 200 people filled a high school auditorium for a question and answer session with the town manager.

“I have a septic tank that works perfectly, and now they tell me I have to come up with another $20,000,” says one resident. “There is no way I can come up with that kind of money.”

Resident Janice Stenson asks how many of the homes in the town’s sewer facilities plan had failing septic systems.

“Rather than arbitrarily choose some streets, should you not have looked at the records first to see if (replacement is) needed?” she says.


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.