Michigan Proposal Would Create Statewide Septic Regulations

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A series of bills to set a statewide regulation for the estimated 1.3 million septic systems in Michigan has been introduced in the Legislature. House Bill 5732 would establish the regulations, including a time of transfer inspection. Under the proposal, local health departments could set standards stricter than state law. House Bill 5733 would appropriate $3 million to pay for the program and the development of a database of septic systems. The program would be supported by user fees, which would also provide funding to support homeowners who can’t afford to repair or replaced systems. Supporters of the bills say there are about 130,000 failing systems in the state, but only 11 of the state’s 83 counties have programs to detect failed or failing septic systems. The bills are the work of Democrats Gretchen Driskell and Julie Plawecki, the latter of whom died after the bills were introduced.


An extensive survey by the Saskatchewan Onsite Wastewater Management Association has provided a long list of recommendations to the Ministry of Health on the province’s onsite wastewater program as it considers changes to its regulations. Among the 27 recommendations, SOWMA calls for a training and certification program for installers, required soil sampling at the restricting and limiting layers rather than basic site and soil evaluation, monitoring ports at each end of the system, high-level alarms, and GPS locating information on the permit application. It also calls for increased setbacks, fines and penalties to serve as a deterrent, effluent filters on all systems, development of a best practices protocol for inspections, a central database and training for local health officers.


According to The Septic Times newsletter of the Georgia Onsite Wastewater Association, 735 contractors have maintained their certification since the state first required it in 1999. In 17 years, 5,876 contractors allowed their certifications to lapse and are no longer certified and 3,658 companies have come and gone. In June, the newsletter reported there were 1,017 certified installers, 316 contractors certified for pumping, and 615 who are certified for both.

New interpretation of a longstanding septic system siting rule is causing concerns in the 13 Georgia counties that make up the Department of Health’s District 2. Smaller lots established prior to 1984 have been grandfathered from minimum requirements on lot size and setbacks. Though there have been no law or regulation changes, the health district has “clarified” the minimum requirements. An installer said a 1-acre lot that could hold a three-bedroom home under the old interpretation would now be limited to two bedrooms. The local Habitat for Humanity program has also expressed concern because most of the properties it acquires for low-income housing are grandfathered lots and said meeting the increased standards would make the homes unaffordable.


The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has been monitoring lake transparency for about 40 years. In a report issued in June (using the latest data from 2014), of those lakes showing trends one way or the other, 25 percent had decreasing transparency while 75 percent where showing increasing clarity, an indicator of improved water quality. The agency found a link between phosphorus levels and transparency, and a link showing that those lakes with improved transparency also had ongoing watershed restoration and septic system upgrade programs. www.pca.state.mn.us/water/secchi-transparency-trends-minnesota-lakes

Nova Scotia

A 12-year-old girl’s water quality project for school has led to an agreement between Nova Scotia Department of Environment and the community of Lunenburg to replace 600 straight pipes that carry a daily flow of 158,500 gallons of raw sewage directly to the LaHave River. Local officials say they’ve been trying to the get the province to address the problem for more than 20 years. An elementary school project by Stella Bowles renewed interest in the issue and resulted in a $17 million project under Infrastructure Canada’s Building Canada Fund. Lunenburg will oversee installation of septic systems for each home, and own and maintain the each system for six years before turning it over to the homeowner. It’s expected to cost each homeowner $12,000 to cover unfunded costs, which will be repaid through property taxes over six years.


As Lucas County, Ohio, assesses the condition of septic systems in the county, it is also offering $300,000 in grants to repair or replace them. With 13,000 septics in the county, 544 have been assessed through mid-July in the voluntary program, with 28 percent lacking risers that allow homeowners to pump and maintain their systems. For repairs and replacement, the grant will cover the full cost for those at or below 100 percent of the poverty level.

Those at 200 percent of the poverty level are eligible for 85 percent reimbursement, and 50 percent is available for those at or below 300 percent of the poverty level.


The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is offering assistance to those who need to repair or replace their septic systems. As of last May, DEQ had $250,000 for low-cost loans to help prevent the estimated 6,000 failed septic systems identified annually. State officials say it is a start, but that they really need around $6 million.


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