New York Legislature Considers Ways to Cut Onsite System Costs

Three bills before the New York Legislature could reduce the cost of onsite systems for state residents.

One would remove the requirement that a professional engineer or architect handle the design of an advanced onsite system to reduce nitrogen pollution, as long as the system meets certain guidelines and is on a health department list of approved technologies. This change could cut about $3,000 of the cost of such installations.

A staff member of The Nature Conservancy on Long Island tells a news reporter that requiring engineer involvement for some onsite systems is like having an engineer certify the installation of a refrigerator. A professional engineer took issue with the idea, noting that advanced systems are essentially miniature wastewater treatment plants with components that need to be chosen by someone with expertise.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Fred Thiele, I-Sag Harbor, and Sen. Kenneth LaValle, R-Port Jefferson. The pair prepared two other bills that also address wastewater issues.

One would allow municipalities to establish septic system replacement loan programs. Property owners could borrow to help pay for the installation of a nitrogen-removing onsite system. The loan would be repaid through a charge on property tax bills.

The other bill would allow communities around the eastern end of Long Island to establish loan programs that draw on their Community Preservation Funds. Loans would be intended to bridge the gap between a septic system replacement rebate and the cost of advanced nitrogen-reducing systems. A 2 percent tax on real-estate transfers bankrolls the funds, which pay for water-protection programs and purchase land for preservation as open space.

“We’re looking for ways to make septic system upgrades more affordable and give an incentive for people to participate in septic system upgrades,” Thiele tells the Newsday newspaper.

Although they represent a very wealthy part of the country, communities on the eastern end of Long Island depend heavily on cesspools for wastewater treatment. Water-quality problems have led those communities to recognize the need for better treatment, especially nitrogen reduction. As a result, several communities passed laws requiring advanced onsite systems for new construction or significant remodeling.


The Brevard County Commission voted 3-2 in May to impose a five-month ban on the installation of conventional septic systems along the county’s beachfront, on Merritt Island, and any inland location within 165 feet of the Indian River Lagoon and its tributaries.

Commissioner Jim Barfield proposed the moratorium in April as a first step. The county will next begin looking at permanent policies to reduce septic system pollution. Nitrogen from onsite systems is being blamed for algae blooms in the lagoon that runs for miles between the eastern shore of Florida and its barrier islands.

Although septic system installations would be on hold, developers and homeowners would still be able to install advanced onsite systems that remove at least 65 percent of the nitrogen in wastewater. Homeowners with an existing contract to install a traditional septic system would be exempt from the moratorium.

Among people testifying before the commission was Roxanne Groover, executive director of the Florida Onsite Wastewater Association. According to Florida Today, she asked commissioners to slow down the process to ensure that the policy coming out would be good law, and she asked them to consider alternative technologies for onsite systems.

In the meantime, reports the Brevard Indian River Lagoon Coalition, the Florida Health Department is approving septic permits for system removals and upgrades at double the rate specified in the lagoon cleanup plan.


Portable restroom operators may have a new anti-icing fluid if a bill in the Legislature becomes law. HB 393 would allow the sale of used water from oil and gas drilling as a de-icer, for snow control, dust control, portable restrooms, or any other purpose approved by the chief of the state’s Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management.

There are some conditions. Water could come only from vertical wells, and not horizontal wells, according to an analysis prepared by legislative staff. The water would also have to be processed to remove dissolved volatile organic compounds and other contaminants. Once a seller submits the appropriate documentation, the oil wastewater would be exempt from state regulations covering brine, although the division must collect no more than four samples of the oil wastewater per year to ensure the water meets regulations.

In testimony before the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Michael O’Brien, D-Warren, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said the wastewater is not like that from horizontal fracking wells. Wastewater from vertical wells contains salt and low levels of oil and natural gas, and the bill will encourage people to find ways to use brine rather than disposing of it in an injection well, he says. (The other co-sponsor is Rep. Anthony Devitis, R-Green.)

The Sierra Club of Ohio disagrees with the assessment of oil wastewater.

“There’s been some great research on this, showing it does not matter what kind of oil and gas well this fluid comes from, it has hazards in it,” Cheryl Johncox, an organizer with the group, tells public radio station WOSU. “We’re opposed to this bill opening up for additional broader use on roads in the state of Ohio.”


The owner of Diamond Environmental Services, a large portable restroom company in San Diego, will serve five months in federal prison for illegally disposing of wastewater in cities in Southern California.

Arie Eric De Jong III pleaded guilty last year to felony charges and was sentenced in May. In addition to the prison term, a judge ordered him to pay a $15,000 fine and serve three years on probation.

Warren Van Dam, the company’s chief operating officer, was given five years’ probation and ordered to work 250 hours of community service.

Last year, the company’s safety and compliance manager, Ronald Fabor, was convicted of two counts of perjury before a grand jury. He received five years’ probation and a $500 fine.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Melanie Pierson tells Judge Roger T. Benitez that De Jong was a thief.

“This is a scheme to dump portable waste down the sewer to save money. This is his idea. He planned it. He experimented with it. Then he implemented it across all of his facilities,” she says, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Prosecutors say the company saved millions of dollars in costs by illegally emptying pumping trucks into municipal sewer systems instead of paying fees to use a dumping station.


Rush County now requires certifications for people who install, repair or replace onsite wastewater systems. Certifications can be obtained by showing proof of Indiana Onsite Wastewater Professionals Association certification or by taking a 60-question, open-book exam offered at the Health Department. Recertification will be required annually. Homeowners who want to work on their own onsite systems must also be certified.


Cost-sharing reimbursements from the Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District have increased for a variety of onsite work. Payments cover 50 percent of the cost of pumpouts, repairs, and new systems up to these limits: $150 for a pumpout, or $240 for lower-income families; $1,000 for a pumpout and inspection, or $1,600 for a low-income family; $2,500 for repair of a conventional system, or $4,000 for low-income families; $4,000 for a conventional system, or $6,400 for low-income households; $5,000 for a conventional system with a pump, or $8,000 for low-income households; and $12,000 for an alternative system, or $19,200 for a low-income family. The district covers Culpeper, Rappahannock, Madison, Orange and Greene counties.


Sonoma County officials asked for an extension of state deadlines for developing new rules for septic systems. Officials faced opposition from rural residents who feared they would be forced to undertake costly repairs and upgrades. The Board of Supervisors will ask for a six-month extension. It was not clear when the State Water Resources Control Board might make a decision on the county’s request.

The rules are intended to reduce pollution in the Russian River. 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.


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.