Rules & Regs: New Farm Bill Offers Grant Money for Installers

In this month's regulations update, legislators review a proposed bill to overhaul Michigan's state septic code

Rules & Regs: New Farm Bill Offers Grant Money for Installers

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Editor's Note: This article was updated Dec. 27 to reflect changes in the story about Michigan's septic code, as a proposed bill failed to pass.


When President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill on Dec. 20, it included a gift for onsite installers. A few paragraphs in the bill allow low-income, rural homeowners to access a pool of money for upgrading or replacing their onsite wastewater systems. The law allows grants of up to $20,000.

Because this is a piece of federal legislation, that doesn’t mean the cash drawer is open. The way Congress works, a bill creating a program is separate from the appropriations bill that allocates money it.

Passing appropriations bills will be the next step when the new Congress convenes in January and begins work on the next federal budget, says Eric Casey, executive director of the NOWRA - National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association. On this issue, NOWRA partnered with the Rural Community Assistance Partnership, which led the push for the onsite program.

The need for an appropriation means supporters of the program still have work to do, Casey says. “Most of the time, congressmen are more disposed to support something if they think their constituents support it,” he says.

But getting an appropriation will also require time. Because there will be a new Congress with a change of party leadership in the House, it will be several weeks until committee members are appointed, he says. Also, members of the Senate and House will have their own agendas to push.

It’s likely nothing will start happening with appropriations until March or April, but Agriculture Committee members in both houses should be in place in early February and would be receptive to messages supporting the onsite program, Casey says.

“Overall this is an excellent bill. It’s a really good opportunity to clean up some of the worst individual onsite problems that are out there among the low-income population,” he says.

The onsite program was added to a long-standing federal law that provides money to fix problems with rural drinking water wells. That program was small with only about $5 million appropriated, Casey says. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., tried to push that up to $100 million, and a committee settled on $20 million. It is this pool of money that the onsite program will now also be able to tap — if the appropriation goes through.

Farm bills are approved every five years by Congress to set policy and programs for the agriculture industry.


Michigan's Septic Code Bill Dies

A bill to create a statewide septic code went nowhere in the final days of the legislative session and died when the Legislature adjourned.

The bill, HB 5752, had been stalled in committee since the spring. In the last few weeks of the session, it was moved to the Local Government Committee chaired by Rep. James Lower, R-Cedar Lake, who sponsored the bill. On Dec. 11, Lower’s committee sent his bill to the full House of Representatives, but the House did not take it up as legislators went through the final few days of rapid votes, group pictures and farewell speeches.

The bill drew opposition from Michigan health departments. They say the legislation was drafted behind closed doors and without their input. Departments worry about increased costs should the state take over code administration, and they worry about the erosion of local control and losing the ability to adjust their rules to closely fit local environmental conditions.

As a result of the November elections, a new Legislature will take office in January. Should Lower wish to pursue the issue, he must start from scratch by introducing another bill and seeing it through the committee process.

A health department official interviewed by Onsiste Installer says the idea of a statewide code has been talked of for about 15 years but has never come this close to passing the Legislature.


Yellowstone Club spill fine used for septic upgrades

As part of a penalty for spilling millions of gallons of water into the Gallatin River, a resort will fund three environmental projects for businesses near Bozeman, Montana.

The spill at the Yellowstone Club happened in 2016 when a pipe failure at a holding pond dumped about 30 million gallons of treated water into the river. The water was not a health hazard, but the spill violated pollution rules, officials say.

In 2017 the club was fined $256,700 for the spill. One quarter of that was paid in cash, and the rest, about $192,000, is being used for the environmental projects.

The club will pay about $174,000 to upgrade the septic systems at three area businesses. The difference between the amount paid for the work and the penalty assessed will be used for a trout habitat project on another fork of the river.


Local governments in New York encouraged to require onsite inspections

With one ordinance passed, the nonprofit Lake George Association in New York is encouraging other local governments to require onsite system inspections when a property is sold.

In October the town of Queensbury approved such a rule after three years of discussion. If a property-zoned waterfront residential lot is sold, the town will inspect the onsite system. Only if the system has passed an inspection in the previous three years will it be exempt.

While untreated stormwater is the greatest threat to water quality in the lake, failing onsite systems can also pose health and water-quality problems, says a letter from the association.


Realtors challenge development rules meant to protect land around Puget Sound

The city of Bainbridge Island, Washington, won a round in its effort to establish new development regulations for environmentally sensitive lands.

The City Council adopted new rules in February 2018. Those rules included restrictions in areas considered critical to recharging aquifers. Almost all of the island, which is across from Seattle on the Puget Sound, falls into a critical area.

The Kitsap County Association of Realtors challenged the rules. It says the regulations would significantly limit what a property owner can do, and it alleges the regulations had no scientific basis. The Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board disagrees and ruled in favor of the city.


Ontario community finds faulty systems in first year of inspection program

In the first year of a four-year inspection program, a contractor in Algonquin Highlands, Ontario, looked at 1,095 onsite systems and found 426 of them, or 39 percent, required some kind of remedial action. Typically that action was a simple pumpout, according to The Times of Minden.

Inspectors found 24 metal tanks, and nine of those systems were more than 50 years old. Additional investigations were required at 39 properties, and homeowners were advised to call in a qualified professional for an in-depth examination. Some of the systems were affected by tree roots, and in other cases, driveways had been poured over drainfields.

The community is about 168 miles northeast of Toronto.


New York farmer fined for septic violation

The Cayuga (New York) County Board of Health voted to fine a farmer $1,000 for a septic violation in worker housing.

The board says farmer Joseph Tidd did not have an adequate septic system for the building. Human waste was discharged into a manure lagoon on the property.

In February, Tidd had been given a month to correct the problem, but that order was moot when the town of Owasco cited him for not having a building permit or an occupancy permit for the structure, reports The Citizen of Auburn. But in September, officials found Tidd had been housing workers in the building after he had received the earlier citations.

Tidd may receive half of the fine back if he complies with the order to fix the septic issue.



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