Rules and Regs: Alabama Water Management Group Focuses on Rural Wastewater Solutions

Also in this month’s regulations update, an Amish group appeals the ruling in a case requiring them to use onsite systems for graywater

Rules and Regs: Alabama Water Management Group Focuses on Rural Wastewater Solutions

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A group of organizations in Alabama will receive $4.85 million from the U.S. Agriculture Department to develop rural wastewater solutions for the state’s Black Belt.

The Consortium for Alabama Rural Water and Wastewater Management will use the money for a technical assistance and training program, and to develop construction-ready plans. The consortium is led by the University of South Alabama and includes the University of Alabama, Auburn University, and the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Dark, rich soils are responsible for the name of the Black Belt region, but those soils also include clay, which retards drainage for onsite systems. The belt covers 17 counties, from roughly Tuscaloosa in the west to Bullock and Macon counties near the Georgia border in the southeast.

This grant builds on a $710,000 grant from Columbia World Projects (part of Columbia University in New York City) in 2020. Columbia said it would match other funds, such as the USDA grant, to a maximum of $5 million. All the work is intended to install and test cluster and decentralized wastewater treatment systems at pilot sites.

Information from the tests will be published openly so anyone can learn from it, said an article from the University of South Alabama.

Kevin White, a professor and chair of the university’s Department of Civil, Coastal And Environmental Engineering, said the lack of good rural wastewater infrastructure has many ramifications. “It's also about the lack of a critical developed world infrastructure that allows for economic growth and development, environmental protection, and public health protection.”

Amish group appeals in septic system requirement case

A group of Amish men in Minnesota have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review their wastewater regulations case. No appeal is guaranteed because the court may reject a case if justices believe there are no significant legal issues for them to decide.

Since 2006, Fillmore County has contended the Amish must install onsite systems for graywater disposal. (The Amish use outhouses for human waste, which is permitted under Minnesota law.) The Amish refused, saying the county’s rules infringe on their religious beliefs. Instead of a septic system, the Amish proposed using a mulch basin system. During a trial in the case in 2019, a witness said a mulch basin would not work in Fillmore County.

The Supreme Court petition repeats the claim that county rules violate the constitutional right of the Amish to practice their religion. The brief from the attorney for the Amish says, in part, that the county and state failed to prove “that their generic interests in public health and environmental protection were so compelling in this specific application as to justify trampling Petitioner’s religious beliefs.”

In addition, the brief asserts the county and state failed to show that mulch basins were not an acceptable alternative although they are used in 20 other states.

At the end of the trial, Judge Joseph Chase wrote that by not following wastewater rules, the Amish interfere 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.”

Arkansas landowners in watershed can receive assistance for septic repair

Landowners in the Illinois River watershed are eligible to apply for financial assistance for repairing or replacing failing septic systems.

There is no income cap for receiving assistance, but people with lower incomes will receive a larger share of the cost. The Illinois River Watershed Partnership is managing the program. A similar program for landowners in the Beaver Reservoir watershed is being managed by Ozark Water Watch.

Montana county approves new wastewater regulations

After more than two years of discussions, the Ravalli County Health Board unanimously passed new wastewater regulations in March.

The board worked on revisions after dealing with problems such as people who began construction without a permit and people who did not comply with their permits, reported the Ravalli Republic. County Commissioner Greg Chilcott said the new regulations are clearer and have reduced penalties and fees.

Commissioner Jeff Burrows, who also chairs the health board, said more information will be going out to the public. Given the influx of new residents, that’s especially important, he told the newspaper, because many people moving into the area have never lived in a place without municipal sewer service.

Minnesota Clean Water Legacy Act grant to fund Polk County septic replacement

Owners of failing septic systems in Polk County may apply for cost-sharing to repair or replace those systems.

Funding for repairs is through a grant from the Minnesota Clean Water Legacy Act. Money is limited, and preference will be given to people based on household income, condition of the existing system, and proximity to surface water, reported KROX News. Homes involved must be a primary residence, and landowners will be required to pay any match upfront.

The deadline to apply for funding is June 1. Any money remaining after that date will be available first come, first served.

Colorado county makes onsite system records more accessible

Onsite system records for Larimer County are now available online as an attachment on property records of the assessor’s office. The information is under the Building Information tab at the top of each records page.

In the past, people trying to locate records about their onsite systems had to directly contact the county’s Department of Health & Environment. The county has records on about 15,000 permits dating to the late 1950s.

Lampasas River Watershed Partnership providing funds to replace failing systems

Landowners in the Lampasas River watershed in Texas may be eligible for money to help repair or replace failing septic systems. The watershed covers part of Mills, Hamilton, Lampasas, Coryell, Burnet, Bell and Williamson counties.

Federal grant money available through the Lampasas River Watershed Partnership, in collaboration with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, is enough to pay for about 15 systems. Residents may receive up to 100% of the cost, up to a maximum of $8,000.

Association to Preserve Cape Cod seeks lower interest rate for septic financing

The Association to Preserve Cape Cod wants Barnstable County (Massachusetts) to drop the interest rate charged under the Community Septic Management Program.

Decreasing the rate from the current 5% to zero will enable the county to offer no-cost financing to the thousands of people who are either upgrading onsite systems or connecting to municipal sewers, said a letter from Andrew Gottlieb, the association’s executive director, to Barnstable County commissioners.

“The cape has failed to invest in the level of advanced wastewater treatment needed to restore and preserve our marine waters,” he wrote, according to The Bourne Enterprise.

Barnstable County covers all of Cape Cod.


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