Monday, May 9, 2011

Complying With Virginia Alternative Septic Regulations

At the end of April of this year Prince William County Environmental Health finally sent out letters notifying the owners of Alternative Onsite Sewage Systems, AOSS, that they are required to comply with the AOSS Regulations that went into effect April 7, 2010. Environmental Health is part of the county health district and implements the Virginia State Department of Health regulations. Though this legislation denied localities the ability to restrict use of alternative septic systems, it requires all AOSS be properly maintained. Uniform regulations throughout the Commonwealth might facilitate homeowner awareness and compliance with the regulations.

The letters from Prince William County Environmental Health outline (though I am afraid not entirely clearly) the six responsibilities of homeowners with AOSS. It is really very easy to comply, though not at all cheap. I have an O&M Service plan with one inspection and two service visits a year including all required reporting for $575 per year for the basic plan. Discounts are available from most companies if you get together a group of neighbors.

1. Maintain a relationship with a licensed operator. This “relationship” does not have to be a service contract, but many licensed operators require a contract to take on the obligations of the regulations and quite frankly, it does simplify things. A licensed operator is an onsite sewage system operators licensed by DPOR to operate and maintain all alternative onsite septic systems, AOSS. Appropriate licenses are any licensee within the Onsite Sewage System Professionals category (soil evaluators, operators or installers) or Soil Scientists. Note that DPOR does not issue multiple licenses to individuals, so that someone who is qualified to install is also qualified to operate a system. You can go the DPOR website and look up the individual license holder, but it is important to know the individual license holder’s name which is not always the same as a company name. Many companies operate with several employees working under the license holder.
2. Have your AOSS operated and maintained by a licensed operator. The Virginia code requires the owner of an AOSS to have that system operated by a licensed operator, so you need to hire one of them to operate and maintain your system. That amounts to at a minimum one visit a year, but may be more depending on the type of system you have.
3. Have an operator review the operation of the system at the frequency required by the regulations. The frequency of your required maintenance is actually on your AOSS operating permit, which you have probably never seen. However, with an AOSS system that the manufacturer obtained general approval for (and that is most systems), the maintenance schedule is given in the standard homeowner’s manual (where to find that is below). My system operating instructions detail system inspections and adjustments every six months and filter cleaning every three months. The operator is required to fill out and file forms with Environmental Health detailing the operation and condition of the system and compliance with the required maintenance schedule. The operator is required to file a report (on-line) for all visits.
4. Have an operator collect any samples required by the Regulations. In addition to regular maintenance and inspection, all systems installed after April 7, 2010 and whose systems have a secondary treatment before the soil treatment area are required to have a grab sample of sludge taken and analyzed for BOD and, if disinfection is required, fecal coliform once every five years. Systems installed before April 2010 are grandfathered and do not require sampling (they were installed without sampling ports).
5. Keep a copy of the maintenance log provide by the operator on the property where the AOSS is located. Every time the operator visits your system to maintain and/or inspect it, they are required to fill out a form with the Virginia Department of Health on their on-line reporting system and send you or give you a form indicating what service they provided. I file all of these in a notebook with the Operations Manual, but my service company e-mails me the invoice/log entry so I have all items electronically stored.
6. Keep a copy of the Operations and Maintenance (O&M) Manual for the AOSS on the property, make it available to the health department on request and transfer the O&M Manual to any future owner. All manufactures of systems approved in Virginia have created O&M Manuals that you can access on line and print. I know this is the biggest waste of paper ever, but I’m not entirely convinced that the health department would accept an electronic copy. Also, read it, it does give some useful tips on how to properly use your system. All the manuals from the standard state approved systems can be accessed at this link. (Go outside and read the name and model number off your system. It is on the power units bolted to the house.)

These requirements went into effect on April 7, 2010 and remain in effect until final regulations for O&M of alternative systems are in place. The letter you received requires you to engage a licensed operator in a “timely” manner. These requirements (with the exception of the sampling requirement only) apply to all AOSS. Compliance is simple, but expensive. I use my system as recommended by the manufacturer and EPA, keep a notebook of receipts and the O&M Manual and write checks.

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