Rules & Regs: Water-Quality Bill Making Progress in Florida

Also in this month's regulations update, 75 properties have applied for reduced-cost onsite systems in Lowndes County, Alabama, which has long been plagued by onsite wastewater issues

Rules & Regs: Water-Quality Bill Making Progress in Florida

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After years of algae and water-quality problems, Florida’s Legislature has a water-quality bill with broad support. 

The bill by Sen. Debbie Mayfield of Indialantic received unanimous approval in late January from the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government. The Florida Chamber of Commerce and Audubon Florida were on board with it too, reports the Florida USA Today Network capital bureau.

“It blows me away, really, to see that kind of support,” says Sen. Ben Albritton, a Republican citrus grower.

The bill would move oversight of onsite systems from the Department of Health to the Department of Environmental Protection and would direct the department to develop rules for the location of onsite systems. The department would also have to develop new rules to limit leaks from underground sewer pipes and for managing the application of biosolids.

Not everyone is happy with the bill. A lobbyist for the Everglades Foundation wanted the bill to apply more oversight to agricultural fertilizer, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Originally the bill would have required each agricultural producer to enroll in a program to reduce water and fertilizer use, provide its fertilizer records and undergo annual inspections. Mayfield proposed an amendment in committee to remove this provision, and the committee agreed.

Even so, Mayfield says, the required farm data collection will provide more information than is available now. She also says her bill proposes changes to the basin management plans — which govern the watersheds of Florida’s springs — that would have a large effect on water quality. In watersheds where onsite systems contribute more than 20% of nutrient pollution, the bill requires remediation plans.

Whether Mayfield’s bill will pass the Legislature is, of course, unknown. But before the current floor session began in January, Roxanne Groover, executive director of the Florida Onsite Wastewater Association, was hopeful. FOWA leaders and members invested significant time last year talking to lawmakers and their staffs about technologies available in the onsite industry to solve pollution problems. And FOWA worked with Mayfield last summer to help her understand the issues and the industry perspective, Groover tells Pumper.

The current legislative session ends on March 13.

Delaware County Extends Septic System Moratorium

In January the New Castle County (Delaware) Council extended its 18-month moratorium on the use of septic systems in subdivisions. The moratorium is now scheduled to end on Aug. 26, 2021. The county’s Department of Land Use had asked for a permanent moratorium.

Debate over the moratorium was driven by explosive growth in the southern part of the county, which encompasses the city of Wilmington along the Delaware River and the upper portion of Delaware Bay. This part of the county has no sanitary sewer service, and the Department of Land Use had asked for a one-year moratorium in 2018, saying use of septic tanks in subdivision would add pollution to state waters.

Opposition to the moratorium came from farmers who worried about the loss of land value if development is ended.

New York’s Town of Queensbury to Tighten Inspection Rules

After a year with its new onsite system inspection ordinance, the town of Queensbury, New York, is ready to tighten the rules.

When it passed the ordinance, the town board said property owners would not be forced to replace a functioning system, even if it did not meet current standards. Now the board is ready to say that systems are not functional if their treatment or holding tanks are too small. Any tank that is too small will have to be replaced with a larger one, reports The Post-Star of Glens Falls.

To calculate the required size for a tank, the town would use not the number of bedrooms, but the number of all rooms used for sleeping. This issue has appeared because of Airbnb rentals that list all rooms in a house as possible bedrooms. Town officials worry that too many temporary residents would overwhelm an onsite system. The town will also take into account the use of whirlpool baths and garbage disposals.

Holding tanks will be required to have two alarms: one for a half-full tank and a second for a full tank.

Queensbury is at the southern tip of Lake George and on the edge of Adirondack Park in northern New York’s recreational country.

Updated Wastewater Treatment Plant in California to Refuse Septage

When its remodeled wastewater treatment plant is ready, Rosamond (California) Community Services District will no longer accept septage. The risk of receiving contaminated wastewater is too great, Steve Perez, general manager, tells the Antelope Valley Press of Palmdale.

“We do not want to experience a shutdown of our plant if we get a ‘hot load,’” he says. “We have no idea where they’re picking their loads up.”

District staff calculated that testing every septage load coming in would require two additional employees. Receiving contaminated septage also carries a risk of violating state regulations and incurring fines. Removing the septage receiving station will save about $500,000 annually, Perez says.

Rosamond is about 80 miles north of Los Angeles, on the other side of the coastal mountains.

Polluted Pond Triggers Onsite Inspections in Massachusetts

The Mashpee (Massachusetts) Health Department will require owners of properties within 300 feet of Santuit Pond to undergo onsite system inspections. The inspections are intended to reduce toxic cyanobacteria on the pond.

Runoff from onsite systems is one of the main sources of phosphorus seeping into the pond, reports The Mashpee Enterprise of Falmouth. Mashpee is on the southern side of Cape Cod.

Glen E. Harrington, the health agent, tells town officials he is trying to find sources of money that would reduce the financial burden for homeowners whose systems must be replaced. About 120 properties must have inspections.

Septic System Owners in Alabama City to Pay Sewer Service Fees

Residents of Hollinger’s Island near Mobile, Alabama, are about to be billed for sewer service that many don’t use. A spokesperson for the Mobile Area Water and Sewer Service, which is imposing the charge, tells WKRG news that money from people who don’t use the service will be held in escrow and may be used to offset the cost of connecting to the municipal system later.

People not using municipal sewer and using septic tanks are not happy about being billed for the service.

“I mean, the septic tank has been there since 1968 or ’69. … It’s worked fine,” homeowner Richard Mallini tells WKRG news.

Charging for unused sewer service is legal under a 1990s ruling from the Alabama Supreme Court. The court says even people not connected to a sewer system receive an indirect benefit because a utility uses its money to help reduce pollution.

Lowndes County, Alabama, Sees 75 Applications for Wastewater Program

About 75 applications have been received for the Lowndes County (Alabama) Unincorporated Wastewater Program, according to the state Department of Public Health. There is funding for 100 properties.

People approved for the program will receive a new onsite system for the cost of one down payment and maintenance payments of $20 per month.

“This program targets people in the unincorporated area of Lowndes County, low income and need. So, anybody can apply, but you have to be in an unincorporated area,” Sherry Bradley, director of the Bureau of Environmental Services, tells Alabama News Network.

Onsite problems have plagued the county for years.

Sarasota County, Florida, Businesses Required to Pump Grease Traps More

As of Jan. 1, business owners in Sarasota County, Florida, must pump their grease traps more frequently. The intent is to reduce wastewater spills and grease runoff.

Under the rule, food service businesses must have a grease trap or interceptor installed, pump it every 90 days (30 days for grease traps placed under sinks), use licensed haulers, and keep three years of quarterly reports prepared by haulers, as well as records of trap maintenance. Establishments will also pay a monthly fee of $16.67, on each water and sewer bill, for the FOG program.

Some business owners tell the Sarasota Observer they were unaware of the new rule until they received a notification in December. David Cash, assistant director for Public Utilities, tells the newspaper that the first few months under the new rule will be used for public education, not enforcement.


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