Rules and Regs: Florida Faces Onsite Nitrogen Challenges

In this month's regulations update, Florida's water quality plans could soon change, and Michigan may outlaw point-of-sale ordinances that require pumpout inspections

Rules and Regs: Florida Faces Onsite Nitrogen Challenges

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When the Florida Legislature ended its session in early March, one of the bills that ended with it was Senate Bill 1664. It would have required local governments to develop remediation plans for onsite wastewater systems as part of broader plans to manage water quality in the watersheds that feed Florida’s springs.

As it is in other parts of the country, the issue in Florida is nitrogen. Various groups are urging residents to abandon their septic systems and hook up to municipal sewer services, and the state has some money available to assist.

The bill sounds good, but it was confusing.

“We never truly understood what the intent of the bill was,” says Roxanne Groover, executive director of the Florida Onsite Wastewater Association. “A lot of what he had in this bill was just a discussion of the basin management action plans that will be enforceable on July 1 if the secretary signs them. And there’s no sign that the secretary won’t sign them.”

Basin plans (also called BMAPs) are already required under a law passed in 2016 and must be signed by the secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection by July 1, 2018.

The senator who proposed the bill is Sen. David Simmons, R-Longwood, whose district is on the northeastern edge of the Orlando metropolitan area. Although she never talked to the senator about the bill, Groover says it’s likely he was trying to increase transparency in the process that will formulate plans and to make sure the result is good policy.

“This has been a very difficult process, and I’m not sure everyone is ready to move forward,” Groover says.

A lot of people and groups have an interest in what the plans require, Groover says. Agriculture, developers, real estate agents and property owners will all feel the effect. The 2016 bill placed a moratorium on new construction on lots of less than 1 acre within the priority focus area for a basin plan unless they meet the new requirements of the BMAP for the area.

When she spoke to Pumper, Groover had just left a meeting about setting nitrogen standards in one basin. Homeowners with undeveloped properties smaller than 1 acre will have two options when they build: convert to municipal sewer or invest in an advanced nitrogen-reducing onsite system. But many of the priority focus areas are in rural Florida where municipal sewer is not an option. There is also no state funding for these projects, and that is an issue the Florida Onsite Wastewater Association has been working on, she says. 

“The challenge is going to be with these 2 million existing systems in the state of Florida. Change is hard. If funding isn’t available, then it becomes harder,” Groover says.

Michigan Could Forbid Point-of-Sale Ordinances Requiring Pumpout Inspections

It appears state Rep. James Lower, R-Cedar Lake, will introduce a bill to amend the state sanitary code. WasteWater Education, based in Traverse City, Michigan, reports this on its website and posted a leaked copy of the second draft of the bill.

To address the many questions raised by the draft, the organization put together an interactive online review of it. The review was on March 8, but if you missed that, you can still catch up. Visit the What’s New section of the organization’s website to see a transcript.

What’s in the draft bill? Here’s one example: Section 5017 on page 23 would forbid local governments and local health departments from enacting point-of-sale ordinances that require pumpout inspections, comprehensive inspections, or system evaluations at the time of a sale. It would also require local governments that passed such ordinances to repeal them or phase them out within 20 years.

Meanwhile, in Leelanau County, a point-of-sale ordinance debated for several months appears to be dead. In early March, county commissioners gave preliminary approval for creating guidelines for an ordinance, reports the Traverse City Record-Eagle. A week later, one commissioner withdrew his support, saying he wasn’t certain there would be agreement on the guidelines. Those would have been forwarded to the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department to use in creating the ordinance. Neighboring Benzie County has had a point-of-sale ordinance for 28 years.

Nick Fleezanis, president of the Lake Leelanau Lake Association, was quoted in the newspaper as saying, “It's just pathetic. They were given the evidence by seven different presenters. … They chose to elect to support property rights over the health, safety and welfare of the people of this county.”

 New York Announces Septic System Replacement Program

In mid-February Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a $75 million multiyear program to target the replacement of aging septic systems.

In the first year, 31 counties will receive $15 million through a partnership between the state departments of Environmental Conservation and Health and the Environmental Facilities Corp., a public benefit corporation designed to provide low-cost financing for water infrastructure projects.

Property owners may be reimbursed for up to 50 percent of eligible costs with a maximum reimbursement of $10,000. Eligible systems upstate are those failing or likely to fail and located near priority bodies of water. In Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island, funding will target projects near drinking water wells and impaired bodies of water.

A list of the priority counties and the money available may be found through the governor’s office.

Wastewater Problems Found at Two Delaware Poultry Plants

Two poultry-processing facilities are at the receiving end of wastewater problems, according to news reports.

Perdue Foods was fined for violating its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES, permit several times in 2015 at a plant in Georgetown, Maryland. The plant violated limits for ammonia, nitrogen and Enterococci.

The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control assessed an administrative penalty and expenses of $84,901. The state is allowing the company to work with The Nature Conservancy to convert 39 acres of farmland into forest. If that project is successfully completed, the company could offset up to $57,975 of the penalty. In a press release Perdue says it invested more than $3 million to upgrade its plants wastewater treatment plant.

In separate action, attorneys are looking at the effects of a wastewater treatment failure at the Mountaire Farms plant in Millsboro.

In August 2017, the onsite system failed and allowed large amounts of nitrogen and fecal coliform bacteria to spray onto crop fields. The state also found violations in the company’s land application of biosolids. Now residents are upset because nitrate levels in local wells are exceeding the limit of 10 mg/L, and they see a link with the Mountaire Farms' wastewater problems.

The company has denied that failures at its plant are responsible for the high nitrate levels. A spokesman says several employees were fired for failing to properly operate the wastewater plant. Attorneys say more than 250 people signed up as plaintiffs for a possible class-action lawsuit.

Kansas County Changes Perc Test Codes

Riley County made two changes to its code to match its practices with those elsewhere.

The Planning and Development Department will no longer conduct $300 perc tests. Instead, the county will conduct a site evaluation that costs $50.

The second change provides an incentive for people who have a biannual service contract for their systems. In those cases, the county will waive a $100 fee for system inspections and a $75 fee for reinspection.

Vermont Septic Company Fined $58,000

A septic company in Colchester must pay a $58,550 fine for unlawfully transporting and storing septage.

Since 2006, Enviro Tech of VT Septic Services operated without a waste transporter permit, says the state Agency of Natural Resources. Yet from 2012 to 2017, Enviro Tech of VT Septic Services moved about 3.7 million gallons of septage and also temporarily stored waste on its property in violation of rules, the state says. The company is also ordered to pay a fee of $10 per 1,000 gallons of septage managed since July 1, 2015. The state agency says it repeatedly tried to have the company come into compliance, but when those efforts failed, it asked for a court order assessing the penalties and requiring Enviro Tech of VT Septic Services to cease operations until it gains the proper permit.


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