Rules and Regs: New York Residents See Result of Septic Replacement Program

In this month’s regulations update, a Connecticut town wants to regulate Airbnb’s impact on local septic systems, and a septic system replacement program helps improve an algae problem

Rules and Regs: New York Residents See Result of Septic Replacement Program

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Year after year, organizations fund grant programs to improve water quality by helping people repair or replace failing onsite systems, and a story from upstate New York shows such money isn’t just being poured into holes in the ground.

In July, The Post-Star of Glens Falls reports that in a small area of Lake George where septic systems have been replaced, the presence of algae fed by untreated wastewater is down 25 percent.

Lake George sits in the mountains of New York, about 200 miles north of New York City and only a couple of miles from the border with Vermont. The lake is about 31 miles long, up to 200 feet deep, and for decades was noted for its clear water and natural beauty. But in the last 10 years, lake residents have been concerned about an algae problem.

In 2012, the annual meeting of the Dunhams Bay Association included a presentation with underwater photographs of algae blooms indicating fertilizer use or septic system failure. Blooms were present at 12 of the approximately 60 properties in the bay.

The FUND for Lake George offered help. Created in the 1980s to protect the lake, the fund also sponsors scientific research on various water issues. To help solve the algae problem, the fund provided matching grants of up to $12,000 per property (later dropped to $8,000) to encourage people to replace troubled onsite systems.

Resident Alan Wrigley tells The Post-Star that he had his system pumped every few years but otherwise ignored it. When neighbors began talking about the algae problem, he reviewed his own conduct.

“I said, we’d better do something. I knew our system was old — it’s probably the original, 70 years old,” he tells the newspaper. He replaced the system in 2015 when the grant program began.

It turned out his old system used a metal tank, fortunately still intact and not leaking. Neighbor Len Simms found the same type of tank when his system was replaced, but in his case, only the top of the tank remained. The rest had decayed.

The good news does not mean all is well on Lake George. A presentation by Lake George waterkeeper Chris Navitsky in 2017 documented a creeping expansion of poor water quality. This was measured by checking the amount of chlorophyll, the molecule that plants use to absorb energy from the sun. Since the 1980s, chlorophyll has increased by 33 percent in the lake. The northern part of the lake has outstanding water quality. In the south, water quality is medium.

Yet there is the small victory in Dunhams Bay. Wrigley sees it. He no longer needs to clean algae off the steps on his dock.

California bill spurs development of potable reuse of treated onsite wastewater

The California state government is pushing development of recycled wastewater as another source of water for the thirsty state, but not everyone is eager to pursue the option. In July the city of Ventura decided not to undertake direct potable reuse.

One reason, reports the Ventura County Star, is that no other city in the state is doing direct potable reuse. There is a bill in the legislature to spur development of direct potable reuse of water in onsite systems, and in the fall of 2017, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill ordering the state Water Resources Control Board to adopt regulations for augmenting raw water with recycled water.

The Ventura City Council said it was more comfortable pursuing indirect potable reuse in which treated wastewater is channeled to a basin from which it is drawn and treated again before being sent to customers. The city is under court order to reduce the amount of its discharge to 500,000 gallons per day. Ventura is on the Pacific coast, about 70 miles northwest of Los Angeles, and it was sued by several groups that say its large discharges — more than 6 million gallons per day — were harming habitat in the Santa Clara River estuary.

Water Research Foundation accepting proposals for water recycling research

After several months of preparation, the Water Research Foundation is accepting proposals to research water recycling. Money for the research is coming from a $4.5 million grant from the California State Water Resources Control Board. Some of the money will be used for research into potable uses and some for nonpotable uses.

Among the topics to be investigated are: developing monitoring systems for microorganisms in potable reuse operations, assembling evidence for pathogen reduction when recycled water is discharged into an aquifer, reviewing how industrial contaminants affect potable reuse, looking at the amount of wastewater available for recycling in California, studying the effects of recycled water irrigation of agricultural crops, and considering the potential for recycling water from oil fields. 

State senator second-guesses repeal of Florida onsite system inspection rule

Florida news stories in mid-July focused on the contribution that failing onsite systems make to algae blooms and how state government may have made the problem worse.

In 2010 the Legislature passed a law requiring inspections of onsite systems every five years. But citizens objected, and two years later the law was repealed after an effort led by former state Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness. He tells the Tampa Bay Times he is now not sure that repeal was right.

"In my opinion, septic tanks are a major contributor," Dean says in an interview. "If we repealed the wrong thing, then yes, it’s our fault."

Gov. Rick Scott, who signed the repeal, disagrees. "It’s absurd to say that a bill that the Legislature passed with an overwhelming, bipartisan majority to save homeowners money six years ago has somehow caused the algal bloom problem that’s been plaguing the state for decades," a spokesman tells the newspaper.

Scientists interviewed for the stories say agriculture is the primary cause of the blooms, but onsite systems contribute to the problem. 

Connecticut town wants to regulate Airbnb’s impact on local septic systems

The town of New Fairfield, Connecticut, is considering regulations to govern Airbnb home rentals. In New Fairfield, the draw is properties on Candlewood Lake, which has a long history of renting properties.

The problem for Evan White, the zoning officer in New Fairfield, is that some Airbnb rentals bring in so many people that it puts a strain on septic systems.

At a public hearing on Aug. 1, the audience at a public hearing was split between those who say online rentals have helped them keep or improve their homes, and those who object to large crowds that strain wastewater systems and disturb neighbors.

John Moran, who chairs the zoning commission, tells The News-Times of Danbury that commissioners will take a few months to decide what action would be appropriate.

Lake residents object to testing septic systems when a property changes hands

Residents of Glen Lake in Queensbury, New York, are objecting to a proposed law that would have the town test septic systems when a property in the waterfront residential zone is sold.

The idea is that some proceeds from the sale would provide money to repair or replace a failing system, reports The Post-Star of Glens Falls. But residents tell town officials that when a property changes hands after a death, there is typically no exchange of money. Residents also worry that required repairs or installation of a new system would delay property sales.

A few lake residents spoke in favor of the proposed law with some suggesting all systems near the lake should be inspected regularly.

Catskill Watershed Corp. expands its septic replacement program

The Catskill Watershed Corp. in New York removed the distance limit on funds to help homeowners and small businesses repair or replace failed septic systems. Previously a property had to be within 700 feet of a watercourse.

The residential program reimburses 100 percent of the cost of repair or replacement for permanent residents and 60 percent for part-time residents. Small businesses with 100 or fewer employees may receive 75 percent of cost.

The corporation began its septic repair program in 1995. To date, it has helped repair more than 5,000 failed systems.

Eugene, Oregon, restores funding for septic cost-sharing program

The Eugene (Oregon) Water & Electric Board has restored funding for its septic system program in the McKenzie River watershed. The river is the only source of drinking water for the city of Eugene.

Money is available for cost sharing and zero-interest loans to help people maintain their systems or repair or replace failing systems.

Under the program, homeowners upstream of the city’s drinking water intake may receive 50 percent of the cost of an inspection and pumpout, and 50 percent of minor repairs that cost up to $300.

Zero-interest loans are available for significant repairs or system replacements. The maximum loan amount is $10,000 with a maximum repayment term of 60 months. 

Court says city’s punishment of pumping company unfair

The city of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, punished a pumping company for what it alleges was illegal dumping, but a judge quashed the punishment saying the process was unfair to the company.

After it hired a private investigator to look into charges against C & D Septic, the city denied the company access to the city wastewater plant to dump septage and to the city landfill to dispose of biosolids. In addition, it sent letters to 18 people who are not connected to the sewer system and informed them they would not be eligible for a 50 percent pumping cost reimbursement if they hired C & D Septic.

In his opinion, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Gary Meschisnick says it was clear the city made decisions without notice to the company. Although there was no detailed evidence of financial harm, he says it was also clear the company had lost business as a result of the city action. He ordered the city to outline its concerns to the company and to specify the evidence it has.

Charges against the company are scheduled for trial in October. The company has pleaded not guilty.


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