Rules & Regs: Algae Blooms Fuel On​going Discussion in Florida Legislature

Also in this month's regulations update, a Minnesota Amish community sues on religious grounds to avoid installing septic systems for graywater disposal

Rules & Regs: Algae Blooms Fuel On​going Discussion in Florida Legislature

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Florida’s coast has been blanketed with algae blooms in the last couple of years. It was the talk at the state capitol in Tallahassee, and in January there was hope that bills addressing these water problems would become law. That didn’t happen by the time the legislative session ended at the beginning of May.

Only one bill, HB 973, made it all the way to the floor of the House, and that bill incorporated ideas from several others. Yet there is still reason for hope, says Roxanne Groover, executive director of the Florida Onsite Wastewater Association.

“What we saw was a tremendous amount of discussion with new House members and a freshman senator,” she says.

Even though it’s not perfect, HB 973 incorporates concerns of the wastewater industry. “And we already know these bills are being discussed for next session and will be discussed over the summer,” Groover says.

One part of the bill would have transferred oversight of onsite systems from the state Health Department to the Department of Environmental Protection. The Florida Onsite Wastewater Association was concerned this would have made work more difficult for installers because Health Department rules are overseen by county offices, whereas the Department of Environmental Protection has regional offices, so the shift could have slowed access to information.

The bill also would have required advanced onsite systems for properties along the Indian River Lagoon, notable in recent years for being regularly choked with algae. (The lagoon is formed by a barrier island along Florida’s east coast and stretches about a hundred miles from roughly Orlando to near Palm Beach.) There were also provisions about the application of biosolids and grants for clean-water projects.

Groover says she thinks the bill dealt with so many critical issues that legislators wanted more time to think about them.

“These issues they’re talking about for water quality are tremendously important to everyone in the state of Florida. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what you do,” she says.

What helped the Florida Onsite Wastewater Association get its views across was the dedicated involvement of several members, she says. The organization has held legislative days before, when members go to the state capitol for a day of meetings with legislators, but it has never had a group that kept returning to the capitol again and again.

In addition to its two lobbyists (Manny Reyes of Pereira Reyes Consulting and Bill Helmich of Helmich Consulting), the Florida Onsite Wastewater Association had Darla Eberst, board member and co-owner of Beltz Septic & Portable Toilets; Jerry and Lisa Prescott, owners of Liberty Plumbing & Septic; Michael Messina, owner of Messina & Associates and a manufacturer’s representative for Fuji Clean USA; and Mark Repasky, president of Wastewater Technologies Inc.

This group could answer any question a legislator or staff person posed, Groover says. And because there were so many of them, they could speak at committee hearings, which are often scheduled simultaneously.

The group learned that advancing installers’ interests also requires a broader conversation because the topic has many components. “You can’t have a conversation just about onsite. You have to have a discussion about wastewater,” Groover says.

One revelation was how surprised legislators and staff people were about industry technology, she says. The Florida Onsite Wastewater Association group provided a list of about 45 technologies — whether approved by the state or not — available to solve wastewater problems.

“I think a lot of people were unaware that we have technology that is available to meet the need,” Groover says. “Most people think all we have available is a septic tank and a drainfield. In most cases I think the information was well received. In fact, I’m still receiving emails from folks I spoke to.”

The next legislative period begins in January and ends 60 days later. Legislators must submit bills for that session by Aug. 1.

Minnesota Amish Community Sues State Over Onsite Requirements

Because of the need to protect human health and the environment, a group of Amish people cannot be exempt from state wastewater regulations, a judge ruled in late April.

Four men, all part of the Swartzentruber Amish community in Fillmore County, sued to prevent the state from requiring installation of a septic system for graywater disposal. (Amish use outhouses for human waste, and that is permitted under state law.) They say their objection is based on a religious belief.

The county and state say that religious belief is not shared by all members of the Swartzentruber community, and they say the Amish already use similar components — such as gravity tanks and pipes — to move water into their homes.

In his ruling, Judge Joseph Chase writes that the Amish desire interferes with the rights of others. “This is a situation in which the Amish cannot, despite their most sincere efforts, be separate from the world. All water is connected, and all of us, Amish and English alike, drink from the same aquifers.”

Michigan Faces Criticism Over Permit Fee System Proposal

Public irritation over a proposed onsite system rule has led the Mid-Michigan District Health Department to rethink that idea. Under the proposed rule, people with onsite systems would have been required to pay the Health Department a discharge permit fee every 10 years as well as pay for private inspections.

Health Officer Marcus Cheatham says the department believes the public criticism was correct, according to The Daily News of Greenville. He found three reasons for the public opposition. First, about 90% of systems work, and homeowners don’t want to pay a fee in addition to system maintenance costs. Second, households with malfunctioning systems are low-income and don’t have the money for repairs. Third, there are other sources of pollution in local rivers such as manure from animal feeding operations.

The department is now working on a new program for its territory of Clinton, Gratiot and Montcalm counties in the center of the state’s Lower Peninsula. This new water-quality program would focus inspections on systems likely to be out of compliance with rules, would help people find financial assistance for repairs, and would make sure land application of waste, which the department already regulates, is done properly.

Pumper Charged With Illegal Dumping and Trespassing in Delaware

A septic service owner was charged with illegal dumping and trespassing in what his wife says was a misunderstanding.

According to a news story from the Cape Gazette in Lewes, Victor Daniels III was hauling pool water when he noticed water leaking from his truck. Daniels owns Dukes Septic Service, which he took over two years ago from his grandfather.

Daniels pulled onto a property he thought was owned by a business associate, according to his wife, Lillian, who co-owns the company. After repairing the leak, a woman drove up and said the land was hers. Police and the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control were called in. Lillian Daniels tells the newspaper that fewer than 500 gallons of water were spilled.

The state says Daniels violated his hauling permit, and the police cited him for trespassing.

Chavez of California Fined $18,000 in Restitution for Illegal Dumping

A pumper accused of illegally dumping septage from his truck into a municipal sewer line completed his jail sentence in late March and was released. At a hearing in February, he was ordered to pay $18,630 in restitution to the city of Santa Rosa.

Police in the community in California’s wine country spent a year tracking Carlos Velarde Chavez. He owned Carlos’ Petaluma Septic Services and was originally charged with two felonies and 22 misdemeanors.

According to the criminal complaint, he dug an access hole in the yard of his home and connected his truck to a municipal sewer line. The police observed him from October to December 2017. A local pumper tells investigators he had never seen Chavez or anyone else from his company discharge septage at a legal dumping station. Had Chavez used a legal dumping facility, he would have paid about $119,000 to dispose of the septage he piped into the sewer line, according to a search warrant filed in the case.

Residents in Florida City Struggling to Fund Sewer Connections

The city of Naples decided to convert homes in the utility’s service area from septic to municipal sewer, but citizens are not happy with the result.

Residents complained to news reporters that construction workers dug trenches that cut off access to their homes and driveways. And then there’s the cost.

Originally, the City Council exempted a portion of the city from the program because the cost to homeowners would have been more than $20,000 per connection. But that area was included after additional funding was found and reduced the cost to about $13,300 per home. Each property tax bill will carry a $983 annual assessment for the next 20 years, but owners can opt to defer payments for that long or until the property is transferred to another owner.

“We had no choice in the matter; we were just told that’s what we have to do. Our septic tank was working fine,” says Kim Hill, a Naples resident. “There are no issues with it.”

Resident Muffy Clark Gill says she paid $8,000 to replace her septic tank two years ago when she renovated her house. Two months later, she received a notice about the sewer connection project.

The conversion program began as part of the overall work in Florida to cure the state’s water-quality problems.

Former County Official in South Dakota Fined for Septic Violations

A judge upheld the conviction of a former Pennington County official accused of violating county septic system laws.

George Ferebee was first convicted in 2017 for refusing to have his onsite system pumped, inspected and permitted as required by county ordinance. He appealed that conviction and was granted a second trial, which was held in June. Several months of settlement talks followed, but there was no resolution.

In early May, Circuit Court Judge John Bastian affirmed the conviction and sentence of a $200 fine plus $60 in court costs.

Ferebee objects to the county’s 2010 septic laws as a form of government overreach. His fight against those laws spilled into western South Dakota (Pennington County includes Rapid City) when he tried to shift his fight to the South Dakota Water Management Board and have it invalidate rules of the county and Rapid City. The board rejected his petition.

Ferebee may still appeal his conviction to the state Supreme Court. 


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