Rules and Regs: Florida County Considers Septic Moratorium to Curb Pollution

Brevard County looks at a temporary halt on conventional septic systems, and Massachusetts wants to prevent contractors from holding licenses for both installing and inspecting

Rules and Regs: Florida County Considers Septic Moratorium to Curb Pollution

As one solution to reduce pollution in the Indian River Lagoon of eastern Florida, a local county board of supervisors is considering a temporary halt on septic system installations. But the moratorium would not apply to all onsite technologies.

Brevard County lies along the Atlantic coast of Florida east of Orlando and includes the Cape Canaveral space complex. The lagoon is formed by the Indian River flowing between the mainland and several narrow barrier islands.

In late April, commissioners of Brevard County voted 4-1 to begin the process of implementing the moratorium. The process will take several months and will include two public hearings. All conventional systems in beach areas of the county, on Merritt Island, and mainland properties within 164 feet (50 meters) of the lagoon and its tributaries would be affected.

What would not be affected are advanced systems designed to remove up to 65 percent of nitrogen in wastewater.

Commissioner Jim Barfield, who proposed the moratorium, was quoted by the newspaper: “We've talked for years and years and years about the septic tanks. And this gives us a positive way to step up and start addressing it.”

The commissioner who voted against the idea, John Tobia, says he preferred to help people pay the difference between the cost of conventional septic systems and advanced systems. He would do this with revenue from a special half-percent sales tax that citizens voted into place in 2016 to improve water quality in the lagoon. Estimates say the tax will raise about $486 million over 10 years.

Water quality in the lagoon has been a continuing problem, and the sources of it are a continuing topic of debate.

Last year Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, introduced a bill that would have required septic tank inspections at the time of sale of a property. But under pressure, he changed the bill so sellers would have only the responsibility of telling buyers that a septic system was on the property. There would have been no requirement to reveal defects with the system. The bill never made it to the floor of the Legislature and died when session ended. 

Jacksonville establishes a grant program to fix failing septic systems

The Jacksonville (Florida) City Council voted in April to provide financial help for businesses with septic system problems.

Under the ordinance, the city is establishing a grant program to provide money to businesses whose systems have been designated as failing. Business owners may receive money to repair or replace the systems or to connect to a municipal sewer if one is available.

The grant program is focused on the northwestern part of the city where the Health Department says 1,465 septic systems serve commercial properties. Of those, 532 are within the boundaries of the Northwest Economic Development Area.

Money for the grants would come from $1 million taken from the Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Fund.

During a committee debate in mid-April, one of the committee members asked why the city shouldn’t simply build more sewer lines. A sponsor of the ordinance says that would be too expensive. 

Massachusetts wants to prevent dual licensing in installing and inspecting

A bill in the Massachusetts state Legislature would put a legal separation between installers and inspectors. It would forbid the state from licensing someone as an onsite system inspector if that person was also licensed as a system installer.

The House bill (H.4358) would also forbid inspectors from recommending a specific installer to perform work. Instead, inspectors would provide a list of at least five people, approved by the local board of health, capable of performing a repair on installation.

One legislative committee approved the bill in April, and it was referred to the committee on Ways and Means.

Still under consideration by the Legislature is a bill that would create a statewide septic license. This bill (H.146), would also forbid a business from holding a license. When “Rules and Regs” reported on this bill last year, one of the people concerned was Frank King of Action King Services in Lowell. He was concerned that in a tight labor market, requiring an individual license would only make it more difficult for wastewater businesses to find qualified workers. 

Ohio country cracking down on National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System maintenance

In March and April the Columbiana County (Ohio) Health Department found 24 people in violation of rules about the maintenance of their National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System wastewater systems.

Permits for the systems, issued through the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, require such systems to be serviced once a year by a qualified technician. The board ordered the property owners to put their systems on maintenance contracts.

The county is at the eastern border of Ohio, about 20 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.

California real estate agents oppose new country regulations for onsite systems

In May, Sonoma County supervisors will vote on a new set of rules affecting septic systems and intended to reduce pollution in the Russian River. The county is part of California wine country, and its southern end touches San Francisco Bay.

The new regulations will require a 2-foot separation between a drainfield and groundwater. Cesspools won’t be acceptable treatment options, say real estate agents and homeowners who will be affected. State estimates say about 10,000 onsite systems in the Russian River watershed will need upgrading, and about 5,000 will need to be replaced. There are about 53,000 onsite systems in the county.

Real estate agents are opposing the new regulations. In a letter to the Sonoma County Gazette, a group of agents say homeowners would pay $35,000 to $70,000 for replacement systems. They raised the possibility of longer wait times for pumpouts and the inability of some people to continue living on hillside sites because there is no process to grant waivers from the regulations. 

Regulations require more advanced system oversight

In April, Montezuma County (Colorado) commissioners approved new regulations for onsite wastewater systems. There are two major provisions.

Beginning in May, advanced systems will be subject to more oversight. This means owners must have systems serviced according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, and they must maintain a service contract with a qualified provider.

Beginning in January 2019, certain systems must be inspected at the time a property is transferred. Such systems include those existing since 1974 and without a permit, advanced systems, systems that had a previous failure, and properties with a valid permit for a system but no structure.

A news report in The Journal of Cortez quotes health department numbers saying that of 12 system failures in 2017, six were installed before 1972. In 2018 so far, there have been 13 system failures, and three of those were installed before 1972. The county began issuing permits in 1974 and since 2004 has required that systems be designed by a certified engineer.

Montezuma County occupies the southwestern corner of Colorado where it meets Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. 

Financial aid program for pumpouts hopes to improve water quality near national parks

To help polluted streams like Fish Creek, people in Teton County, Wyoming, have set up a program to help pay the cost of pumping septic tanks.

Property owners may receive a reimbursement for half of the cost of a pumpout up to a maximum of $150. The program is a partnership between Teton Conservation District and Friends of Fish Creek.

Teton County is in the northwestern corner of Wyoming and includes Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Fish Creek flows through the county and is a tributary of the Snake River that winds through Idaho and eastern Washington.

The groups operated a similar program in the spring of 2017, and it attracted more than 175 participants.

Texas county keeps requirement for maintenance contracts

After considerable discussion, commissioners of Ellis County, Texas, decided to retain a regulation that requires maintenance contracts for septic systems.

The county is located on the southern edge of the Dallas metropolitan area.

A number of people voiced opposition to the idea of eliminating the maintenance contract regulation.

The Daily Light of Waxahachie quotes Randy Chellette with the Texas Wastewater Association: “These systems are mechanical and electrical components. … This county alone has 27,000 onsite systems. That is a public health threat if they are not maintained properly. Without perpetual maintenance, you are taking a step back.”

Wisconsin county inspection ordinance improves compliance

Crawford County, next to the Mississippi River in the southwestern section of Wisconsin, is beginning a yearlong project to come into compliance with state onsite rules. Under a county ordinance passed in late April, all homes will have to be served by municipal sewer or an onsite system that is inspected at least every three years.

The county is starting the process with a survey of all onsite systems, which number about 7,000, according to news reports. The key to the new rules is inspection, Jake Shedivy, county sanitation and zoning technician, tells the Crawford County Independent. Inspections will find problems before systems become a hazard to public health, he says.

Shedivy says the project should be complete by Oct. 1, 2019.


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