Rules and Regs: Illinois Sets Surface Discharge Permit Requirements

Rules and Regs: Illinois Sets Surface Discharge Permit Requirements

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As of Feb. 10, new or replacement surface discharge septic systems in Illinois need a general permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency if they discharge to the “waters of the United States.” The U.S. EPA says its definition of the term includes “among other things, traditional navigable waters, tributaries of traditional navigable waters, and wetlands that are adjacent to traditional navigable waters or their tributaries.” Anyone not eligible for the general permit may apply for an individual permit from the Illinois EPA. 

The federal permits, issued under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, also set discharge limits (1,500 gpd) and require periodic inspection, reporting and effluent monitoring by a qualified person every six months, and visual inspection by the property owner twice a year (including a log of inspection dates and findings). Connection to a sanitary sewer system is required if it is less than 300 feet away from the property. 

It is the homeowner’s responsibility to make the determination if the system requires a permit. Violations would be subject to enforcement action under the Clean Water Act. 

In an FAQ, EPA Region 5 recognizes that it may be difficult for the average person to determine if a system requires a permit, then offers this guidance: “As a common sense way of evaluating whether you are required to be covered by a permit, if you were to install a new or replacement surface discharging system on your land, would effluent or pollutants (even diluted ones) from your system end up in a water of the United States or a conveyance, such as a ditch, drainage pipe, channel, tunnel, conduit, discrete fissure or other means that leads to a water of the United States? In evaluating this question, consider that rain water, irrigation activities, lawn sprinkling systems and any other ways that water can carry pollutants to waters of the United States. If so, even though pollutants would not be carried to waters of the United States unless your area experienced an exceptionally wet season, you are still required to obtain coverage under a permit.” 

There are also requirements for notifying the EPA if the property changes hands so a permit can be issued to the new owner. 


Illegal septic systems and other problems are forcing about 80 families out of their homes at Pleasure Point Park and Marina on Lake Martin in Dadeville. The property is owned by Alabama Power, which was cited last summer for 19 violations, including unpermitted and illegal septic systems and graywater discharges from the mobile homes. 

For almost 50 years, the company has been leasing 37 acres to Pleasure Point, which then subleases the lots to individual homeowners. Canceling the lease with Pleasure Point means all the homeowners must move their mobile homes by June 30. While most are vacation homes, some residents do live there permanently. The cost of moving the mobile homes is estimated to be $5,000 to $6,000 each, and owners would have to find other property in which to move. 

Alabama Power says it could cost up to $1 million to remove all the illegal systems and clean up the property. The tenants claim a community onsite system could be built for about $300,000, but the power company says a remedy could cost up to $2.5 million. 


The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has issued specifications that county health jurisdictions can use if they want to allow graywater reuse in their communities. It is not a rule, and local officials are free to decide whether or not to allow graywater reuse, according to a February memo from the department to stakeholders. 

“The local authorities responsible for enforcing County Sanitary Codes have always, and still have the ability to adopt local graywater rules and regulations as part of their approved Sanitary Code, in order to allow or prohibit graywater use and reuse,” states the memo. “Local authorities may also approve graywater systems as a variance to existing codes. We want to make it clear, it is not mandatory that local authorities have to allow graywater reuse. However, if a local authority wishes to pursue reuse they may.” 

KDHE has also offered technical assistance to local officials should residents request permission to reuse graywater. The specifications apply only to single-family homes; graywater reuse from any other source is prohibited. 

According to the department, the interest in graywater reuse has increased due to drought conditions. A bill that would have required KDHE to develop rules and regulations died in committee in 2013, but the department was tasked with drafting specifications, “that would meet the needs of Kansas residential constituents while protecting public health and the environment,” according to the memo. 

The specifications are available online at


Even proponents say there’s not much chance of them passing, but two bills in Maryland would have the state reimburse people for lost property value due to the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012. The law restricts the use of septic systems in residential subdivisions across the state, among other things. 

One proposal, House Bill 576, would require payments to landowners from the state for lost property values based on the average of three appraisals. Senate Bill 176 calls for income tax credits. The Republican bills have little chance of passing the Democrat-controlled legislature. A GOP bill to repeal the septic law last year died in committee. 


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