Rules and Regs: Rising Water in Lake Michigan Spurs Septic Shutdown

In this month's regulations update, increased water levels in Lake Michigan have shut down septics for two Indiana property owners, and a Virginia court lets a previous decision stand in the case of a septic tank death case
Rules and Regs: Rising Water in Lake Michigan Spurs Septic Shutdown

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The LaPorte County (Indiana) Health Board took steps to shut down septic systems and halt construction because of rising water levels in Lake Michigan.

In 2013, the lake hit a record low, but it has since rebounded, although this summer’s high was still 2 feet below the record set in 1986. Yet, the water is high enough to flood septic systems along the shore.

As a result, two property owners in the community of Long Beach, about 2 miles from the Indiana-Michigan border, were ordered to shut down their septic systems. Their tanks will become holding tanks that must be pumped out regularly. The health board also put a moratorium on permits for any new systems to be built next to the lake, and it revoked two permits issued for systems not yet built, reports the Michigan City News-Dispatch.

Several years ago, the Indiana Health Department revised its septic system placement rule to allow systems within 50 feet of the lake if the waste was pretreated. Previously, the limit was 200 feet. Patricia Sharkey of the Long Beach Community Alliance, a community group, says some property owners rushed to take advantage of the relaxed rule.

“Our organization has long had concerns about septic systems being located too close to the water,” she says. “What we’re seeing is the result of that policy.”

Virginia Court Lets Ruling Stand in Septic Death Case

After being asked to reconsider its ruling, the Virginia Appeals Court let stand its reversal of one count in the case against a woman whose 5-year-old son was found dead in a septic tank.

Ashley Jennifer White was convicted of two counts of child abuse and neglect and one count of child abuse and neglect leading to an injury, reports The Roanoke Times.

In 2015, she lay down for a nap while her son Noah was in the house. He was missing when she awoke, and search teams looked for days before finding his body in a septic tank near the family’s home.

In its 2-1 September ruling, the appeals court reversed the conviction for child abuse and neglect leading to an injury. The judges wrote that White’s actions were not enough to qualify as a criminal offense. In October, the court refused to reconsider that decision. The state attorney general’s office did not say whether it would appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.

White was sentenced to 23 months in prison and completed that term before the appeals court ruled.

Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Town Turns Down Proposal for Onsite System

A Cape Cod town rejected a proposed onsite treatment system for a laundromat. Instead, the town says it will work with the developer and the Sandwich Water District to pursue a better long-term solution.

Developer Thomas Tsakalos tells officials in the town of Sandwich that he wants to build an onsite system to treat water from the laundromat and discharge it into the ground. But, town bylaws prohibited such a discharge because the area is a protected water district.

Tsakalos tells officials those bylaws were written before the advent of modern treatment technology that can return wastewater to potable condition. He says he would use such technology for the 30,000 gpd flow from the laundromat, reported The Sandwich Enterprise.

Dan Mahoney, superintendent of the water district, says there were other concerns. He acknowledges the frustrations with current rules but says water commissioners are also worried about allowing pharmaceuticals and other contaminants of emerging concern to reach groundwater.

Washington County Has Septage Screening Problems

Kittitas County, which lies about 85 miles east of Seattle, is having difficulty screening septage received from local haulers.

The bar screen that removes large debris has 3/8-inch openings, and there is no water at the receiving station to clean the screen, reports the Daily Record in Ellensburg. The county accepts about 1.2 million gallons of septage annually.

County commissioners request county staff to investigate options for a water supply. That could be drilling a well or hauling in water.

Michigan County to Consider Septic Ordinance Again

A proposal for a Leelanau County septic ordinance was turned down once, but the county commissioner who proposed the idea says commissioners are now open to considering the idea again.

In July, county commissioner Ty Wessell asked for the creation of a committee to research and write an ordinance that would include required inspections. But that idea failed to gain support among his fellow commissioners, reports the Traverse City Record-Eagle. Leelanau County occupies a peninsula in Lake Michigan on the northwestern side of the state’s lower peninsula.

Now, Wessell says commissioners are open to a recommendation from the health department operated jointly by Leelanau County and adjacent Benzie County. Tom Fountain, the health department’s director of environmental health, says rules cover new construction adequately but not older systems that could be covered by a point-of-sale inspection. He says there is talk that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder may push for a statewide point-of-sale rule before he leaves office at the end of this term.

Maryland County to Allow Waivers for Building on Drainfield Expansion Areas

Harford County will allow some construction on land that otherwise is reserved for expansion of an onsite system’s drainfield or replacement of a failing drainfield.

Under the legislation, the county health department could grant waivers for commercial or residential property owners to build in these septic reserve areas, reports The Baltimore Sun. Additions to existing structures, driveways and parking lots are among the construction that may be allowed if the property owners ensure their systems are working properly and meet all county and state requirements.

Only Councilman Chad Shrodes voted against the rule. He says waivers for commercial properties were fine, but he worried that residential property owners may not be able to afford the cost of demolishing a structure in order to repair a failing system, and he says some people may not know a previous owner built in a septic reserve area. In the past, Shrodes has supported legislation that reduced the area required for reserves. He says this rule further constricts property owners.

Village in New York Updates Requirements for Onsite Systems in New Construction

The village of Southampton proposed legislation that would require state-of-the-art wastewater treatment technology for all new construction and some renovations. The same technology would be required for substantial changes to an existing onsite system.

The village is on the eastern end of Long Island and is part of Suffolk County where a number of communities, as well as the county itself, have been pushing or requiring better onsite technology to reduce the nitrogen load in nearshore waters of Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean.

The proposed rule would not require an upgrade to existing systems unless there are plans for a new system or an expansion of a dwelling that increases the number of bedrooms, reports The Southampton Press.

Rhode Island Town Suspends Sewer Construction Program

Because of public outrage over the cost, the Town Council in Coventry voted to suspend a sewer construction program. Coventry is on the edge of the urban area around Providence and touches the Connecticut border.

Citizens complained about the cost of hooking into municipal sewer service and leaving their onsite systems behind. The cost to join municipal sewer service was estimated at more than $20,000 per property, reports The Coventry Courier. More than 200 people filled a high school auditorium for a question and answer session with the town manager.

“I have a septic tank that works perfectly, and now they tell me I have to come up with another $20,000,” says one resident. “There is no way I can come up with that kind of money.”

Resident Janice Stenson asks how many of the homes in the town’s sewer facilities plan had failing septic systems.

“Rather than arbitrarily choose some streets, should you not have looked at the records first to see if (replacement is) needed?” she says.


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