Rules & Regs: Montana Changing Standards for Phosphorus, Nitrogen

Also in this month’s regulations update, a Massachusetts pumper puts waste back into a customer’s tank amidst a billing dispute

Rules & Regs: Montana Changing Standards for Phosphorus, Nitrogen

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In 2015, Montana adopted numeric standards for the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen pollution in its waters. Now it’s reversing that policy.

Under SB 358, signed into law on April 30 by Gov. Greg Gianforte, the state will transition to a “narrative standard” by March 1, 2022. What that standard will look like is unclear, reports the Montana Free Press, a nonprofit news organization.

Sen. John Esp (R-Big Timber) said he sponsored the bill because the numeric standards were too stringent for people to meet. Public comments were 18 in support of the bill and 215 against.

Instead of using numbers to measure pollution, the bill mentions regulating discharges of phosphorus or nitrogen that create conditions toxic to human, animal, plant and aquatic life; create conditions that produce undesirable aquatic life; or cause measurable changes in aquatic life.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality will talk to its nutrient working group — which includes people from industry and environmental organizations — to develop a new standard. A narrative standard does allow development of different standards for different waterways, the DEQ has said. But in a document that came out of the working group before the bill passed, DEQ said applying a narrative standard depends on judgment, could be time consuming, could result in controversy, and may produce permit limits that are inconsistent from one project to another.

Biden’s Infrastructure Package Includes Funding for Septic Systems

Part of the federal budget infrastructure request from President Joe Biden says money could be used for repairing up to 180,000 septic systems. That number was in the budget letter sent by the Biden administration to Congress.

The Biden administration is asking for a total of $3.6 billion for water infrastructure. It would be a $625 million increase over the 2021 budget, according to the National Association of Counties. Yet the sum is not guaranteed.

The president’s request is only the first step in assembling the next federal budget. Congressional committees have yet to hold hearings and decide on how much money will be appropriated for the federal budget and how that money will be allocated.

California’s Sonoma County Plans Onsite System Study

Sonoma County, just north of San Francisco, is about to begin a two-year study of onsite wastewater options for the communities of Monte Rio and Villa Grande along the lower Russian River.

Funding for the study was approved in April by the California State Water Resources Control Board. Both communities are considered disadvantaged, according to a press release, and onsite systems are failing. Steep terrain and high groundwater complicate wastewater disposal.

Massachusetts Pumper Puts Waste Back Into Tank in Billing Dispute

After a pumper put septage back into a homeowner’s tank, the Edgartown Board of Health suspended the company’s permit for 15 days and fined the company $500. The case on the island of Martha’s Vineyard began with a billing dispute.

According to news reports, Maciel & Sons had been called to the property in March because of problems with the onsite system. Technicians found it over capacity and pumped between 5,800 and 5,900 gallons of septage out of the five tanks in the system. Property owners Karen and Nicholas Bruno objected to the bill they received. On April 6, Trevor Maciel returned to the property and dumped about 2,000 gallons of septage back into the Brunos’ system. The Brunos called police and asked that the Maciel truck and technician be removed.

Regardless of the dispute over the bill, said Matt Poole of the Edgartown Health Department, it is simply wrong to put septage back into a system.

Testing in a North Carolina River Shows Cattle Contribute Most to E. Coli Pollution

Genetic testing by the local conservation group MountainTrue shows that cattle are the largest source of E. coli pollution in the French Broad River that flows through Asheville. Humans were usually the second-largest contributor at the four locations sampled.

Money for taking samples and doing genetic analysis came from the state with the help of state Sen. Chuck Edwards, according to the Hendersonville Lightning. “Testing DNA in polluted water is pretty state-of-the-art, and it isn’t cheap,” said Hartwell Carson, French Broad Riverkeeper.

DNA from human E. coli was most prevalent in Mud Creek below downtown Hendersonville. The level was 120 DNA copies per 100 ml of sampled water. Cow E. coli DNA measured 251 copies at the same spot. At other locations, human E. coli DNA was between one-tenth and one-quarter as prevalent as that from cows.

New York Legislators Work to Remove Tax Liability for System Upgrades

Two federal legislators from New York are trying to use a federal bill for infrastructure spending to remove a tax liability for people upgrading their onsite systems.

Last year, the Internal Revenue Service ruled people in Suffolk County who used county grants to upgrade their onsite systems had to treat that money as income on their taxes, even if most of the money went directly to contractors. That ruling affected 293 grants worth a total of $3 million.

“The federal government should be supporting, not punishing, efforts to improve wastewater infrastructure and water quality,” said U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in a press release. With Rep. Tom Suozzi, she is pushing for the tax change.

If enacted, the change would cover all county residents who applied for grants after Dec. 31, 2018.

States Seek Guidance from EPA After Hawaii Groundwater Case Ruling

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is being asked by states, environmental groups and other entities to create a rule that would bring clarity to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in a groundwater pollution case.

Last year, in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund, the court said contamination moving through groundwater requires a water pollution permit in some cases. The Trump administration issued quick guidance, according to a report in E&E News. But Julia Anastasio, executive director and general counsel for the Association of Clean Water Administrators, said the guidance left states with more questions that need answers.

Suffolk County to Spend $100 Million to Repair/Replace Onsite Systems

About $100 million will be used by Suffolk County to repair or replace failing onsite systems and connect homes to sewers.

The pot of money includes federal, state and county funds. Of the total, $30 million will be invested in the county program that provides $10,000 grants to homeowners for repair or replacement of failing onsite systems, news reports said. The other $70 million will be used on two sewer projects. About 360,000 homes in the county, which covers the eastern part of Long Island, use cesspools for wastewater treatment. These have been shown to contribute to pollution of the Atlantic Ocean. For several years, the county and its municipalities have focused on this issue and passed laws to require nitrogen-reducing systems for new construction and home expansions.


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