Rules and Regs: Island State Rethinks New Cesspools

In this month’s regulations update, Midwest counties kick septic system locating into high gear, and the only state that still allows new cesspools reconsiders that option.
Rules and Regs: Island State Rethinks New Cesspools
Here's the skinny on the latest industry rules and regulations.

Interested in Onsite Systems?

Get Onsite Systems articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Onsite Systems + Get Alerts

More than 26 percent of septic systems in Minnesota have been installed in the last 12 years, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Authority. Of the 146,400 construction permits issued during that time, more than 72,000 were for replacement systems, accounting for about 4.96 billion gallons of sewage per year being treated by modern systems.

The MPCA reports the estimated number of compliant systems in the state increased from 334,500 in 2007 to 427,000 in 2013. That’s according to an MPCA article in the August/September issue of the Minnesota Onsite Wastewater Association Little Digger newsletter. Local officials reported approximately 534,000 septic systems in Minnesota in 2013, according to the article. They reported issuing 8,911 construction permits for new and replacement systems and 296 repair permits for a grand total of 9,207 new construction permits.

“The work counties are doing to identify where septic systems are, how well they are working and the soil conditions at the sites is very important,” says Jim Ziegler, manager of the MPCA SSTS unit. “This helps us decide where we need to focus resources to best protect human health and the environment.” 

Hawaii considers 115-page water-quality plan

New rules to further reduce the use of cesspools is under consideration in Hawaii, the only state that still allows new cesspools. That would change under the proposal that would ban new cesspools and require replacement of cesspools with septic systems or connection to a sewer system when a property is sold. 

According to West Hawaii Today newspaper, the 115-page water-quality plan now under consideration also includes new water-quality monitoring initiatives, reducing unpermitted underground injection wells, prioritizing impaired watersheds for restoration, and completing guidelines for treatment and reuse of recycled water.

In the cesspool section of the plan, the Department of Health states, “There are currently approximately 90,000 cesspools in the state — nearly 50,000 located on the Big Island (Hawaii), almost 14,000 on Kauai, over 12,000 on Maui, over 11,000 on Oahu, and over 1,400 on Molokai. Each year an additional 800 new cesspools are approved for construction.”

The Department of Health says cesspools release about 55 million gallons of untreated sewage every day across the state’s islands. 

State officials have said the time of transfer provision would help with the transition away from cesspools. As the plan says, “Requiring cesspool upgrades when property is sold makes sense because the cost of the upgrade can be shared between the buyer and seller at a time when sellers, with proceeds from the sale, are better able to afford upgrading costs, and buyers, who are usually borrowing already for their purchase, may obtain additional financing for eliminating a cesspool.” 

Builders and real estate professionals are opposing the proposal. They say it could add $10,000 to the cost of new construction and make it difficult to sell existing homes. 

Surface discharge rules finalized in West Virginia

Several updates were finalized in July for general Water Pollution Control Permits for surface discharging systems by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. 

A key change is that systems must now be tested within one year of permit issuance and meet discharge limits of their classification. If the test results are within the limits, no further monitoring is required during the five-year permit period. If a system is not in compliance, at least one sample will be collected annually until it does meet the limits. At this time, the DEP has not decided what to do with systems that continually fail the testing. 

Among the other changes:

  • All new systems must include flow equalization.
  • Cluster systems for individual residences are not allowed.
  • Effluent media filters are now required for any system that discharges to a roadside ditch.
  • Those that discharge to the Chesapeake Bay drainage area must receive a waste load allocation and provide for nutrient offsets for nitrogen and phosphorus.  

A new section on sludge management was also added. It requires that sludge be removed by certified haulers and that all records and reports be kept for five years.


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.