Rules and Regs: New North Carolina Onsite Law Pushes New Technology

Also in this month’s update, the Minnesota Court of Appeals sides with Amish in graywater dispute

Rules and Regs: New North Carolina Onsite Law Pushes New Technology

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One of the nation’s fastest growing states now has a new set of onsite rules to help handle that growth. 

On July 7, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed HB 627, which implements new rules for onsite work, and he signed HB 628, which amended the statutes governing onsite wastewater. There are provisions for setbacks and for second dwellings on the same property, but the biggest change is about permits and new technologies. 

Under the new law, any professional engineer may approve the use of any pretreatment technology, even if it hasn’t been approved by the state, as long as the engineer’s report includes specifications for the technology and the manufacturer’s approval for use in conditions at the site. 

North Carolina has not been quick to approve new onsite technologies, said Doug Lassiter, executive director and lobbyist for the North Carolina Septic Tank Association. “With those delays, we might get the third or fourth generation of a technology approved.” Limited installations made it difficult for manufacturers to gather the performance data they need to have a technology approved, he said. This provision also means engineers assume both the responsibility and liability for their work, he added. 

In addition to allowing authorizations from professional engineers, the new rules and laws allow limited approvals from an “authorized onsite wastewater evaluator.” This person must be a licensed soil scientist with five years of experience in onsite wastewater and may design systems that the law does not require a professional engineer to design. Authorized evaluators are certified by the North Carolina Onsite Wastewater Contractors and Inspectors Certification Board, Lassiter said, adding that all installers and time-of-sale inspectors must also be certified by the board.

This new law will help alleviate the state’s backlog of onsite permits, Lassiter said. 

North Carolina has been a fast-growing state for years. Its population increased 12.2% from 2010 to 2022, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. U.S. News & World Report ranks the state 14th overall in growth, with job growth of 1.2% versus 0.2% nationally, and with migrants comprising 0.8% of the state population versus 0.1% nationally. 

All those people need housing, and 40% of the state’s single-family homes use onsite systems, Lassiter said. Staff shortages in all government offices slowed the issuing of permits, he said. For large systems that require approval by state engineers, he added, the wait for a permit could last years.

This was the fourth attempt to pass more modern onsite rules, Lassiter said. This time around, he said, a broad-based advisory committee that included industry representatives came to an agreement with help from onsite people at the state Health Department. 

The state Commission for Public Health must still undertake a formal rule-making process. Until the commission adopts permanent rules, temporary rules must follow the legislation. Lassiter said he doesn’t expect any difficulty during rule making. 

A comprehensive review of the legislation and its impact is planned for the association’s 34th annual convention in January.

Court of Appeals sides with Amish in graywater dispute

The Minnesota Court of Appeals sided with a group of Amish people in the latest chapter of a multi-year dispute about using septic tanks to handle graywater. In July a three-judge panel of the court ruled that the government could not order the Amish to use septic tanks for graywater because there was no justification for ignoring their religious beliefs, news reports said. 

Starting in 2018, members of the Schwarzentruber community in Fillmore County — in southeastern Minnesota on the Iowa border — were told to install septic systems to handle graywater from their homes. Graywater could contain human pathogens and put the health of others at risk, the county asserted. The Amish said using septic tanks would violate their religious beliefs. They use outhouses for human waste, a practice allowed under Minnesota law. 

In making its ruling, the state court applied a recent standard from the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2021, the state appeals court ruled in favor of the county’s order for septic tanks, and the Minnesota Supreme Court declined to review the case. The Amish appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which voided the state court decision, said the state and county had to show a compelling interest in order to override religious beliefs, and sent the matter back to Minnesota for further action. Writing for the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Neil Gorsuch noted that other groups are exempt from Minnesota’s graywater rule. Owners of hunting cabins and campers, for example, may dump graywater directly on the soil if the water is carried by hand. 

The publication Minnesota Lawyer quoted attorney Brian N. Lipford, of Southern Minnesota Legal Services, as saying he hopes the state will now decide to work with the Amish. Brett Corson, attorney for Fillmore County, told Minnesota Lawyer that the county had not yet decided how to proceed. “The Amish are our friends and neighbors. We always want to work with them,” he said.

Michigan lake town passes POS onsite inspection rule

Torch Lake Township, Michigan, passed a time-of-sale law in July, requiring inspections of onsite systems before a property may be sold. The township occupies an isthmus between the water body Torch Lake and Lake Michigan. 

If there is no record of a septic permit for a property, the ordinance requires a one-time baseline inspection within three years after the owner is notified by the township. In addition, all properties within 500 feet of the ordinary high-water mark of Lake Michigan, and of the water’s edge of an inland body of water, must have an onsite inspection within three years of being notified by the township, says the ordinance. 

South Carolina county proposes banning cluster systems

Greenville County is considering limiting onsite systems as a way to control growth. 

“We’re at a crossroads in Greenville County,” said Ennis Fant, chairman of the county’s planning and development committee, according to the Greenville Journal. “What we can’t do is what we’ve been doing.”

His committee recommended an ordinance banning cluster systems. The state defines those as systems with a capacity of more than 1,500 gpd. 

Fant said such a limit will help protect the region’s waterways and the health of all the people downstream. Greenville County is in the northwestern part of the state in the Appalachian foothills. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, from 2010 to 2022 the county’s population increased 21.4%, to 547,950.

Virginia residents in Chesapeake Bay area eligible for grants to pump, repair or replace septic systems

People in parts of Middlesex, Matthews and Gloucester counties are eligible for grants to help them repair, inspect or replace onsite systems in order to help protect water quality in the Piankatank River. 

Grant money comes from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and is administered by the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission, said a press release from the commission. Property owners may apply for reimbursement of up to 50% of the cost of a pumpout; for the inspection, maintenance and replacement of a conventional system; or for the replacement of an alternative system. 

The three counties are on the edge of Chesapeake Bay and occupy a peninsula between the Rappahannock and York Rivers. 

Rhode Island cities receive EPA grant for onsite upgrades

North Kingstown and Glocester, Rhode Island, will receive a total of $915,000 for wastewater upgrades. Money comes from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

Glocester will receive $465,000 for the installation of innovative onsite upgrades, reported the Providence Business News. North Kingstown will receive $450,000 to improve onsite systems and provide financial assistance in coastal neighborhoods. 

Shelter Island increases grants for nitrogen-reducing systems

At its August work session, the Town Board in Shelter Island, New York, agreed to increase grants for the installation of nitrogen-reducing onsite systems. 

Town supervisors at the meeting said increased installation costs merited an increase in grants to $12,000. Previous recipients had grants of $6,000, said the Shelter Island Reporter

Money for the grants comes from the transfer tax paid by buyers of properties on the island. Shelter Island is on the eastern end of Long Island.


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