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In 2004, NWMOWTF participated as an advisor to the State of Michigan Department of Environmental Quality as it explored the Governor's mandate to consider a statewide sanitary code for onsite sewage.
Michigan is the only state in the US not to have statewide standards for all aspects of onsite system design, installation, operation and maintenance.
Only sewage waste haulers are certified and regulated for record keeping of capacity hauled and the location septage is hauled to. Municipal collection and treatment facilities have varying capacities, collection and treatment stems and discharge permits. Those who have lagoons do not accept household septage. As the majority of northern Michigan communities do not have municipal systems, the majority of septic tank waste is hauled to farm fields for land application.
Though, when done in ideal conditions and by a certified professional hauler, land application provides adequate treatment - there are several concerns. MI weather is notoriously fickle - and fields may be too wet or cold to allow trucks and machinery to till in land applied septage within the required 48 hours. As development increases, and northern Michigan's agricultural base decreases, the availability of suitable fields is diminishing. As residential property is developed within traditionally agricultural areas, farmers face ever increasing odor complaints. There are also concerns of the effects on groundwater.
Land application is strictly overseen by MDEQ who have also promoted a program of agricultural recycling of biosolids. Septage Homepage is under Water Bureau. The licensing and handling of domestic Septage is regulated under 2004 Public Act 381, which amended Part 117, Septage Waste Servicers, of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, 1994 PA 451, as amended. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), Water Bureau administers the Septage program with the assistance of participating county health departments. Commencing this year, land application during winter months is forbidden because of the possibility of lack of absorption and run off from untillable frozen ground. The only viable option for most waste haulers is to either cease septic tank pumping altogether during these months, construct waste storage containment tanks or haul to a private or municipal receiving facility.
The basis for discussion for the State Task Force was how to institute a program - the options were for an all encompassing Sanitary Code or the introduction of sections in the form of regulatory Rules to be implemented as financing and political will became available.
Michigan has been consistently reluctant to take on this thorny issue for several reasons. For a comprehensive certification and licensing system to be implemented, a comprehensive system of training and certification of trainers must come first. Who will be the responsible entity, how will it be paid for, who will be required to be certified and licensed, who will be responsible for record keeping and ensuring a timely continuing education component for practitioners and licensees?
Much was discussed about the need for separation of powers - those who are regulating and overseeing should not be designing and troubleshooting. Those who are installing and maintaining should be qualified and licensed but by whom?
Much was discussed about the cost of data gathering, data keeping and data gathering. Who should bear the cost to set up this system and who should have access to the databank?
Those Heath Departments who have strictly enforced environmental protection codes wanted the bar set high for the minimum - others were reluctant for varying reasons. Some areas have good treatment soils, some don't. Some are comfortable with advanced technology, some have little experience. All are under tremendous pressure to meet the needs of a growing, fast paced population with less operating cash and fewer staff.
Clearly for a Statewide Code to be accepted still has many procedural, financial and logistic hurdles to go over or go around. It will also need to contain checks and balances to protect sensitive environmental areas.
The debate is healthy, the momentum is forward, but the end is not in sight - yet.
P.O.Box 792, Traverse City, MI 49685-0792
TEL: (231) 233-1806
For more information contact Executive Director
© 2003/4/5/6/7/8/9/10 NWMOWTF