Rules and Regs: Lawsuit Seeks to End Onsite Permits in Florida to Save Manatees

Also in this month’s update, Colorado tentatively approves rule for recycling wastewater

Rules and Regs: Lawsuit Seeks to End Onsite Permits in Florida to Save Manatees

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An environmental group is suing the state of Florida to stop it from issuing onsite permits. Nitrogen pollution from septic tanks is killing the seagrass that feeds manatees in the Indian River Lagoon, said the lawsuit filed in the Middle District of Florida in early November. 

The lawsuit was filed by Bear Warriors United Inc., which usually advocates for black bear protection. It accuses the state Department of Environmental Protection of failing to enforce water pollution laws, news reports said. 

"They walk back on laws all the time," Lesley Blackner, the attorney for Bear Warriors, told Florida Today. "Most environmental laws are not enforced.”

The lawsuit asks for a permanent injunction on permits to discharge nitrogen from septic tanks and wastewater plants into the northern part of the lagoon. The lagoon is formed by the mainland and barrier islands that stretch for about 115 miles along Florida’s eastern shore. Bear Warriors also wants a declaration that the department violated the Endangered Species Act. Manatees are listed as a threatened species under the act.

Bear Warriors asked the court to order medical monitoring, veterinary care, and proper food for manatees in the northern part of the lagoon until there is enough seagrass to sustain them. Last winter, wildlife workers fed lettuce to manatees in an attempt to keep them from starving. 

Colorado tentatively approves rule for recycling wastewater

On Oct. 11, the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission tentatively approved a rule opening the path to direct potable reuse of wastewater. Ohio, South Carolina and New Mexico also have regulations in place for reuse, and California and Florida are working on the idea, reported Fresh Water News

“This is going to be a need in Colorado, and we want to be prepared,” said Ron Falco, safe drinking water program manager for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “Can DPR be done safely? Our answer to that is yes.”

Under the regulation, water providers would have to show they have the resources, both technical and financial, needed to recycle wastewater. Communities would have to collect wastewater samples for a year to demonstrate treatment effectiveness.

An opinion column in The Denver Post supporting the rule noted that water has been recycled through the environment for almost 4 billion years. Colorado and other Western states have historically depended on winter snows for their water supply, the column says, but a warming climate is changing that. Snowpacks have decreased by 20% to 60% at monitoring sites in the Rocky Mountains. 

Final approval of the rule was planned for this month because of clerical errors in the regulation. 

Michigan statewide inspection legislation stalls again

A Michigan lawmaker’s attempt to create a statewide inspection rule for onsite systems appears doomed for this session of the Legislature. 

State Rep. Jeff Yaroch, R-Richmond, sponsored HB 6101, which would require an onsite inspection when a property is transferred from one owner to another, reported the news site 

The Michigan Realtors association said it strongly opposes the idea because its members don’t want inspections tied to property sales, said Brad Ward, the group’s vice president of public policy and legal affairs. Members want not just uniform definitions and rules but uniform inspections at regular intervals, he said. 

“If the ideal thing is clean water in our rivers, lakes, and streams, it makes sense that we should probably be testing everyone in a regular interval, rather than just when homes sell,” he said. Houses not sold for decades would not be inspected, he said, whereas those sold often would be inspected many times in the course of a few years. 

Yaroch called the opposition self-serving. “Fundamentally, what this is about is Realtors don’t want to have this on their plate as part of the sale process, even though this is the most pragmatic time to do it,” he said.

There has been one hearing on Yaroch’s bill, on Sept. 28. Officials in the House of Representatives said no others are planned. Because he is term-limited, Yaroch said, the idea needs another champion.

Michigan remains the only state without a statewide code governing onsite systems. 

California county approves time-of-sale onsite inspections

In October the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors approved time-of-sale inspection rules for onsite systems. 

The rules say property sellers must have their onsite systems professionally pumped and inspected before a sale. Sellers must provide buyers with a standard disclosure form containing information about the system, and must also provide buyers with copies of any annual service agreement, reported the Santa Cruz Sentinel

Dozens of county residents at a public hearing on the rules said they were concerned that inspections could slow the sale process and push up its cost. Staff from the county’s environmental health division said an advisory committee would consider comments and may recommend adjustments before the rules take effect on July 1, 2023.

Virginia onsite division looks to rewrite septic regulations

Faced with increased flooding from sea level rise and with more intense rains linked to climate change, the state of Virginia is looking at rewriting its onsite rules. 

Also factoring into the decision to rewrite is the availability of more alternative treatment technologies, Lance Gregory, director of the state Division of Onsite Water and Wastewater Services, told The Virginia Mercury. 

“It’s been 20 years since we’ve revised the regulations, so we’re opening them wide open,” Gregory said. 

Virginia has about 1.1 million onsite systems, and the majority are conventional septic systems. 

New Hampshire man sentenced for Consumer Protection Act violation

A judge sentenced Brian Jeffrey Strouth in October for violating New Hampshire’s Consumer Protection Act for an onsite system installation that never happened. 

Strouth, 51, of Pittsfield, New Hampshire, was sentenced to a 12-month suspended jail term, said a press release from the state attorney general. As a condition of the three-year suspension, the judge prohibited Strouth, or any business owned or operated by him, from performing any work requiring a professional license unless he first obtains such a license and obtains court approval. He is also prohibited from accepting prepayment for work. Strouth was fined $1,000 and ordered to complete 40 hours of community service. When he was sentenced, Strouth paid $4,000 in restitution. 

On Aug. 21, 2019, Strouth convinced a customer to pay $4,000 for installation of a septic system, said the press release. Strouth was not licensed to install onsite systems, made excuses for not doing the work, then forged a permit application and falsely told the customer it had been filed with the state.


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