Monday, January 10, 2011

Potomac Watershed Roundtable Meeting: The Virginia Watershed Implementation Plan, and septic regulation in Virginia

The most recent meeting of the Potomac Watershed Roundtable was in Warrenton, VA at Lord Fairfax Community College on January 7th 2011. The session addressed the Chesapeake Bay strict pollution diet, the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) mandated by the EPA and the Virginia Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) to achieve the mandated reduction in nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution.

The revised WIP also reduces the rate of growth in on-site sewage disposal systems, or septic. The stated intension is to raise the costs to operate a septic system through regulation which would make clustered systems or community systems more competitive and raise the overall cost of building and maintaining homes. The cost of constructing housing would increase in the area in response to these requirements. Though according to the Department of Environmental Quality, DEQ, it is not intended to limit regional growth, the requirements cannot help but impact housing costs and availability.

In addition the revised WIP proposes to require the offset new system loads through an expansion of the Nutrient Credit Exchange Program. The Commonwealth intends to implement amendments to Virginia Department of Health regulations for alternative systems which are currently a bit in limbo because of the temporary emergency regulations that the department of health has done little to enforce in much of the Commonwealth and are set to expire on April 7th 2011, but can be extended for 6 months.

The proposed amendments to the current Emergency Regulations that require all single family alternative onsite sewage systems, AOSS, continue to have professional operators certified by DPOR to operate and maintain the AOSS in accordance with the operating permit, and visited by the operator as specified in the operation permit (typically once or twice a year for preapproved commercial systems) and finally an annual maintenance report submitted to the regulators by the operator. In addition, sampling at startup to confirm proper functioning of the system and every five years for those systems put into operation after the date of the enabling legislation and not grandfathered, like mine.

In addition to those requirements the new legislation requires a minimum 50% reduction in delivered nitrogen for all new small alternative onsite systems in the Chesapeake Bay watershed resulting in an effective delivered load to the edge of the project boundary of 4.5 lbs TN/person/year. Single family home AOSSs are about to get very expensive in the Cheseapeake Bay Watershed if the regulations are enforced.

As Bob Marshall pointed out a few days ago, the civil penalty regulation establishing a uniform schedule penalties for violations of onsite sewage and alternative discharging sewage treatment system regulations. was withdrawn. There will be little or no enforcement. Those who ignore the law will not suffer any consequences. There seems to be very little follow through on the part of the VDH to even inform the public of the regulations.

The Potomac Watershed Roundtable of nine counties, six towns and cities, the six soil and water conservation districts and various stakeholders including interested citizens was at a loss of how to incorporate these requirements into their programs. If these regulations are necessary and appropriate, then they should not be voluntary. The public should be informed and simple and reasonable penalties established. The public comment period on these changes closes on February 4th 2011. There will be a public hearing on January 25th 2011 at 10 AM at the James Madison Building at 109 Governor Street in Richmond, VA.

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