Rules and Regs: Communities Add Pressure to Protect Lake George

Also in this month’s regulations update, a rebate program encourages septic system owners to help protect the James River watershed

Rules and Regs: Communities Add Pressure to Protect Lake George

People living around Lake George in upstate New York have expressed concerns for several years about algae and pollution in the lake. Some towns enacted their own inspection programs for onsite wastewater systems, but now there are calls for more and broader action.

In late May, supervisors in Warren County, on the western shore of the lake, debated a law to require inspection of onsite systems near area lakes and two rivers. Repairs or replacements would be required for failing systems.

The draft law has been in development for about two years by a task force of county officials including Claudia Braymer, a county supervisor and environmental attorney, reported The Sun of Elizabethtown, New York. Braymer said having a county law would spur the Legislature to enact a statewide inspection law. Other local officials said the state is already working on the issue and a county law may discourage the state from acting. One town official said the county is not set up to enforce such a law, which would shift the burden to towns.

A 2018 report about Lake George from the state Department of Environmental Conservation called for a mandatory inspection program to begin within three years. At the end of 2020, a group of public and elected officials and environmental organizations called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to create a statewide inspection law for near-shore onsite systems.

Also in May, the Adirondack Council, a nonprofit set up to help protect the wild character of Adirondack Park, released a position paper urging all local governments to require inspections. To fight water contamination, the council proposed education, regulation and financial help for homeowners who need to repair or replace failing systems.

At the end of May, the Lake George Park Commission created a committee to study the effects of septic systems on the lake’s water quality. “With Lake George experiencing its first ever harmful algae bloom in November of 2020, it is incumbent on the commission and partners to determine root causes of this event, and to implement measures to help prevent such events from occurring in the future,” says the committee’s mission statement, according to The Post-Star of Glens Falls.

The commission is an independent state agency set up to protect the lake and its drainage basin.

A couple years ago, the nonprofit The FUND for Lake George did its own study of onsite systems. Using records of only one town, it located about 400 systems. Two-thirds of those were at or past the typical life expectancy of a system, or were of an unknown age. About half of the tanks found had not been pumped recently, or there was no record of pumping, and about 20% of systems were undersized.

Teton County engineer proposes reducing onsite system location restrictions

A proposed revision of regulations in Teton County, Wyoming, would allow onsite systems to be located closer to rivers. Present rules don’t allow wastewater treatment components within 150 feet. Ted Van Holland, of the county’s engineering department, proposed reducing that to 50 feet, reported the Jackson Hole News & Guide.

In four years, he said, only about a dozen applications out of 500 have stalled because of the 150-foot limit. In some cases, he said, the rule has discouraged people from upgrading systems.

Van Holland has been revising the county wastewater rules and said the 50-foot restriction would match the limit for other surface waters.

“The dilution that occurs from a septic system into one of these major rivers is, for all practical purposes, infinite,” he said.

He also suggested developing broader water protection standards for the county that would include pollution sources such as fertilizer.

Dan Heilig, senior conservation advocate for the Wyoming Outdoor Council, told the newspaper that the proposed rules would be a backward step without a basis in science.

Indiana county onsite rules need an enforcer

The Gibson County (Indiana) Board of Health suggested the county hire a building inspector to enforce the county’s onsite system rules.

Diane Hornby, nurse administrator for the Health Department, told the county council that her department receives many complaints about onsite systems, reported The Daily Clarion of Princeton, Indiana. Twenty years ago there was no subdivision ordinance, but now enforcement is required, and her department doesn’t have authority to do that, she said.

County launches online permit system

St. Louis County, Minnesota, has launched an online permit system that allows contractors and homeowners to file applications, upload related documents and pay necessary fees.

In 2020 the county issued 722 permits for onsite system repairs or replacements, and county staff performed 847 inspections for property transfers, land use or short-term rentals, reported the Duluth News Tribune.

St. Louis County stretches north from Duluth to the Canadian border.

The county’s system can be accessed through

Waterfront property owners to receive help maintaining onsite systems in Montana counties

People who live near water bodies in Lake and Flathead counties in Montana may be reimbursed up to $200 to help cover the cost of maintaining onsite systems. Money can be used for system pumping and inspections, said the Montana Association of Conservation Districts.

The association received a $70,000 grant from the state Department of Environmental Quality, reported the Daily Inter Lake of Kalispell. Of that total, $30,000 is for onsite system maintenance, and $40,000 is for general public education about onsite system issues.

Payments to property owners are for 50% of pumping and inspection costs, up to the $200 maximum. Eligible systems must have been pumped three or more years ago and must be located within 500 feet of a lake, river or stream.

Rebate program encourages septic system owners to help protect James River watershed

The James River Basin Partnership expanded its Fresh Flush rebate program this year in some areas, and the overwhelming response led the organization to suspend the expanded program until it can clear the backlog. A note on the organization’s website says it will reassess after 90 days.

For several years the partnership has helped property owners with pumping costs by offering $50 rebates. This year, assistance increased to $150 for people living in the upper James River watershed, reported KY3 News in Springfield. The river basin covers parts of seven counties in southwestern Missouri.

All residents of the river basin may still receive $50 rebates. To receive a rebate, a property owner must apply for it before having a tank pumped.


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