Rules & Regs - August 2021

Part of the federal budget infrastructure request from President Joe Biden says money could be used for repairing up to 180,000 septic systems. That number was in the budget letter the Biden administration sent to Congress.

The Biden administration is asking for a total of $3.6 billion for water infrastructure. It would be a $625 million increase over the 2021 budget, according to the National Association of Counties. Yet the sum is not guaranteed. 

The president’s request is only the first step in assembling the next federal budget. Congressional committees will hold hearings and decide on how much money will be appropriated for the federal budget and how that money will be allocated. 


In 2015, Montana adopted numeric standards for the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen pollution in its waters. Now it’s reversing that policy. Under SB 358, signed into law recently by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte, the state will transition to a “narrative standard” by March 2022. What that standard will look like is unclear, reports the Montana Free Press, a nonprofit news organization. 

Sen. John Esp, R-Big Timber, said he sponsored the bill because the numeric standards were too stringent for people to meet. Public comments were 18 in support of the bill and 215 against.

Instead of using numbers to measure pollution, the bill mentions regulating discharges of phosphorus or nitrogen that create conditions toxic to human, animal, plant and aquatic life; create conditions that produce undesirable aquatic life; or cause measurable changes in aquatic life. 

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will talk to its nutrient working group, which includes people from industry and environmental organizations, to develop a new standard. A narrative standard does allow development of different standards for different waterways, the DEQ has said. But in a document that came out of the working group before the bill passed, the DEQ said applying a narrative standard depends on judgment, could be time-consuming, could result in controversy and may produce permit limits that are inconsistent from one project to another.


Sonoma County, just north of San Francisco, is about to begin a two-year study of onsite wastewater options for the communities of Monte Rio and Villa Grande along the lower Russian River. Money for the study was approved by the California State Water Resources Control Board. Both communities are considered disadvantaged, said a press release, and onsite systems are failing. Steep terrain and high groundwater complicate wastewater disposal. 

North Carolina 

Genetic testing by the local conservation group MountainTrue shows that cattle are the largest source of E. coli pollution in the French Broad River that flows through Asheville. Humans were usually the second-largest contributor at the four locations sampled. This is significant because waterway contamination is often blamed on failing septic systems, the likeliest source of human DNA. 

Money for taking samples and doing genetic analysis came from the state with the help of state Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Raleigh, said the Hendersonville Lightning. “Testing DNA in polluted water is pretty state of the art, and it isn’t cheap,” said French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson. 

DNA from human E. coli was most prevalent in Mud Creek below downtown Hendersonville. The level was 120 DNA copies per 100 ml of sample. Cow E. coli DNA measured 251 copies at the same spot. At other locations, human E. coli DNA was between one-tenth and one-quarter as prevalent as that from cows. 

New York

Two federal legislators from New York are trying to use a federal bill for infrastructure spending to remove a tax liability for people upgrading their onsite systems.

Last year, the IRS ruled that people in Suffolk County who used county grants to upgrade their onsite systems had to treat that money as income on their taxes, even if most of the money went directly to contractors. That ruling affected 293 grants worth a total of $3 million.

“The federal government should be supporting, not punishing, efforts to improve wastewater infrastructure and water quality,” Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said in a press release. With Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-Glen Cove, she is pushing for the tax change. 

If enacted, the change would cover all county residents who applied for grants after Dec. 31, 2018.

Suffolk County will use about $100 million to repair or replace failing onsite systems and connect homes to sewers.

The pot of money includes federal, state and county funds. Of the total, $30 million will be invested in the county program that provides $10,000 grants to homeowners for repair or replacement of failing onsite systems, news reports said. The other $70 million will be used on two sewer projects.

About 360,000 homes in the county, which covers the eastern part of Long Island, use cesspools for wastewater treatment. These have been shown to contribute to pollution of the Atlantic Ocean. For several years, the county and its municipalities have focused on this issue and passed laws to require nitrogen-reducing systems for new construction and home expansions.  


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