Rules & Regulations - July 2020

Rules and Regs is a monthly feature in Pumper. We welcome information about state or local regulations of potential broad interest to Pumper readers.

Rules & Regulations - July 2020

It took a decade, but the Florida Legislature has passed a bill that makes progress on protecting the state’s waters and keeps the onsite industry as a viable solution to some of the state’s water problems. In the end, Senate Bill 712 sailed through the Senate 39-0 and through the House 118-0.

After some false starts, it turned out this was the year for action, says Roxanne Groover, executive director of the Florida Onsite Wastewater Association. “The cost of not doing anything was going to far outweigh the challenges we’re going to get from people for doing something,” she says.

For the decentralized wastewater industry, there are two major takeaways from the bill. First, oversight of onsite systems will shift from the Department of Health to the Department of Environmental Protection. Second, the bill requires that when the department is formulating rules about onsite systems, it must consider advanced treatment units in addition to conventional septic systems.

Gov. Ron DeSantis made clean-water legislation one of his major goals. He set up a task force to study algae blooms that have stricken the state for several years, and he is expected to sign the bill into law.

One of the first attempts to protect the state’s waters came in 2010 with a bill mandating onsite system inspections every five years. Those were repealed in 2012 after citizens objected.

In 2017, Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, introduced a bill that would have required onsite system inspections when a property was sold, but the bill was altered so sellers would only have the responsibility of telling buyers that an onsite system was present. The bill never made it to the floor of the House.

Last summer, as legislators discussed how to address water-quality problems, FOWA members spent time talking to legislators about the industry and how onsite technologies can help protect the environment. Infiltrator Water Technologies hired a lobbyist to work with FOWA’s lobbyists and present the manufacturing perspective, Groover says.

Groover also worked with Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, last summer. It was Mayfield who wrote the bill that has now passed the Legislature, and Groover gives her great credit for reaching out to interested groups, keeping discussions alive and encouraging people to compromise. “That is the greatest challenge she overcame this year,” Groover says.

For pumpers and installers, the bill should not disrupt business because the role of county health departments remains the same, she says. And FOWA is ready to help with the shift of oversight from the Health Department to the Environmental Protection Department, she says. That means helping ensure permits aren’t stuck in the system as the agencies move people or change their duties. “There’s a lot of shared people, shared offices, shared equipment,” she says.

An advantage of having the Environmental Protection Department handle oversight is that funding for onsite upgrades comes through that department, Groover says. This year, the state allocated $8 million for grants of up to $10,000 in nine counties that hold natural springs critical to the state’s freshwater supply. Homeowners could use that money to buy advanced treatment units, she says, and the money is available again this year. It may be a fraction of what is allocated for conversion from onsite to municipal sewer, but the money is there, and shifting oversight to the Environmental Protection Department provides an opportunity to expand the program, Groover says.

Florida newspapers report some grumbling by environmental groups who say the bill did not go far enough in regulating agriculture. That industry has been cited as a major contributor of the nutrients fueling algae blooms.

The bill may be fine-tuned in the next legislative session, Groover says, but the onsite industry shouldn’t be part of any major struggles. The next Florida Legislature convenes in January 2021.


A small community is going to court to avoid a forced connection to municipal sewer service.

In 2012, the state ordered Washington County to provide municipal sewer service to people in Devola, an unincorporated community 115 miles southeast of Columbus near Marietta and the West Virginia border. The county signed an agreement with the city of Marietta, but the two are now in court because the city says the county isn’t complying with the agreement. All of this gave impetus to Devola residents who don’t want to pay for a sewer conversion.

Costs over 30 years would be $66,300 to $78,575 for each property, depending on how much work the county would do versus how much would be up to property owners, reports The Marietta Times.

In January, some Devola citizens formed DASH: Devola Against Sewering Homes. DASH’s attorney asked a judge to let the group become involved in the suit between the city and county. While the order to provide municipal sewer was based on studies in 2009 and 2010 of nitrate contamination of groundwater, DASH’s attorney says more evidence about the contamination has accumulated since then, but the state isn’t looking at it.


Teton County has drafted an update to its onsite regulations, but one advocacy group wants the rules to go further. The draft rules build on state rules and existing county ordinances and will now require leak testing and an operations manual for each onsite system that would be passed from one homeowner to the next, reports the Jackson Hole News & Guide.

Dan Hellig, of the Wyoming Outdoor Council, says thousands of county onsite systems are sources of nitrate and E. coli contamination of groundwater. He says the county should require mandated system maintenance and inspections. Ted VanHolland, the county engineer, says inspections would be a burden on county staff.

Several thousand properties in the county — about one-third of all homes — depend on onsite systems for wastewater treatment. Teton County is in the northwestern corner of Wyoming and includes Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks. 


The state Department of Environment and Conservation imposed a $20,000 civil penalty and $3,617 in cleanup costs on Price Septic Service of Rogersville and owner Robert Price. Twice septage from company trucks was intentionally dumped into tributaries of Cherokee Lake, the state says.

In one case, Price had applied lime along the channel where septage had flowed, reports the Citizen Tribune of Morristown. The state wrote letters telling Price to clean up the septage but received no reply.

Cherokee Lake is in eastern Tennessee, about 35 miles northeast of Knoxville.

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A bill in the Tennessee Legislature is being criticized for removing power from the Department of Environment and Conservation to set standards for community wastewater systems.

Senate Bill 2224 and its companion, House Bill 2206, would restrict permits from requiring land to be set aside for effluent treatment. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, was quoted in news reports as saying proposed department rules about community systems would be harmful to building.

The bill is out of committee and was referred to the Senate Calendar Committee.  


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