Oregon Considers New Onsite Rules Featuring an Expiration Date on System Approvals

Oregon considers new onsite rules featuring an expiration date on system approvals.

After six years with its current set of onsite rules, the state of Oregon is on the verge of revising them to allow more alternative technology options and change how they are used. The broadest change targets nitrogen.

“We’re adding more nitrogen reduction,” says Randy Trox, onsite program coordinator for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. “We have some data that show our minimum lot size for sandy soils with unconfined aquifers isn’t adequately protective.”

The DEQ proposal would increase the standard for rapidly draining soils. Instead of having one conventional system on each acre with such soil, the revised rule would specify no fewer than 2.5 acres. Current rules also allow a system such as pressure distribution or a sand filter on a half-acre property. Minimum lot sizes for other treatment systems would also change. In general, the new rule requires technologies that can reduce total nitrogen by 65%, Trox says.

The first 20 systems a manufacturer installs under this rule would have provisional approval and would have to be tested every other month, he says. If those tests show the systems meet the nitrogen standard, that technology would be added to the list of approved options.

The largest impact of this proposed change would be on many lands in central Oregon, most lands along the state’s rivers and many properties along the Pacific Coast.

Other proposed changes are less broad but would reduce headaches and costs.

Dispersal of treated wastewater is currently allowed only in 24-inch trenches, which includes chambers or EZflow by Infiltrator. Drip tubing — Geoflow and similar products — would become an option under revised rules.

“We had an evaluation for Geoflow but didn’t have enough requests to complete the evaluation. But in looking around, a lot of other states have it, and no one is saying it doesn’t work. We think there’s a place for it here,” Trox says.

Major maintenance rules would change for the replacement of components such as distribution boxes. As long as a licensed onsite installer or certified maintenance provider does this work, there would be no need for a permit.

“The cost of the permit to replace a distribution box or drop box is almost equal to the cost of some work. A minor permit fee for replacing a tank or a drop box is probably around $400,” Trox says.

A new rule would place an end date on site evaluations. These are required when applying for permits for onsite work, and at the moment, evaluations are good forever. The proposed rule would place a 10-year expiration date on these, adequate time to develop a parcel of land, Trox says. If the rule is adopted, all existing evaluations would expire in 2030, and any evaluations after that would have a 10-year limit.

This came up during the last rule-making process, and the DEQ is proposing it again with more input, he says.

“You go back to the ’70s and some of the paperwork is pretty thin. Counties can’t find where the site work was done. Trees grow up and get cut down. Lot sizes change a little bit,” Trox says. “Our current rules say you may not get the system the site was approved for, but you will get a system; and people argued this was inconsistently applied in different jurisdictions.”

The current rule revision process began in the fall of 2018 with the department’s advisory group that includes county representatives, pumpers, installers and manufacturer, among others, Trox says.

For the latest information about Oregon regulations, check the website for the rule-making: www.oregon.gov/deq/regulations/rulemaking/pages/ronsite2019.aspx.

The final proposed rules are scheduled for consideration at the November meeting of the state’s Environmental Quality Commission. New rules would take effect Jan. 2.


The new South Florida Water Management District may be heading to stricter limits on pollution of the state’s waters.

Pollution in Lake Okeechobee is coming from somewhere, says Ronald Bergeron, one of the district board members appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in March. “We’ve got to get a hold on where it’s coming from, and we need to monitor and regulate it before it enters state waters.”

Removing pollution — especially nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer — is cheaper than cleaning it up later, he says, according to a report from the Treasure Coast Newspapers.

Earlier this year, a member of the board asked whether there is monitoring to prove whether best management practices on farms are working. Vanessa Bessey, environmental administrator from the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, says farmers are not required to prove their practices are cleaning water before it leaves their land. If they implement a practice recognized by the state, there is an assumption that it meets standard, she says.

During the last few years, algae blooms have drawn much publicity, including a large bloom traced to water discharged from Lake Okeechobee. Although one study faulted septic systems as the primary cause of algae blooms in the state, most other experts dismissed this idea. They say septic systems may contribute, but they point out that Lake Okeechobee discharges a large amount of agricultural runoff.

The district is one of five in Florida. It manages the water resources in 16 counties from Orlando to the Florida Keys.


Last spring, county commissioners in Kalkaska County — in the northwest corner of Lower Michigan — began debating whether to step out of a regional Health Department rule that requires onsite systems to be inspected when a property is sold. In the most recent development, the county board chairman says he wants to hear from township leaders before the board acts. Town representatives were invited to a special meeting.

Behind the board’s discussion are complaints about the cost of inspections — about $700, say news reports — and the additional cost to property sellers if they are required to upgrade a system. At the same time, some board members say they want a solution that doesn’t restrict inspections to only times when properties are sold, and they say there are so many exemptions to the current rule that it is ineffective.

South Carolina

An ordinance that could have required everyone in Charleston County to connect to municipal sewer pipes was put on hold by the County Council in May.

The ordinance began as a way to help residents of a community who wanted sewer service without being forced to annex their properties to the neighboring municipality. But as written, the ordinance looks as if it could force everyone to connect to sewer pipes and require the extension of pipes across the county.

That worried the local sewer utility, which didn’t know about the issue until it was covered by The Post and Courier newspaper. Conservationists were alarmed at the prospect of the urban sprawl that would follow the spread of municipal sewer. And citizens were concerned about the cost of building all the pipes and making the connections.


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