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2008: "Water To Waste." education publication.

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2008 logoOnsite Wastewater of Northwest Michigan
2008: "Water To Waste." education publication - Return To Main Index

Water To Waste Section Eleven: Small community options, choices and solutions

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Bullhead Lake, Long Lake Township, MILong Lake Township: A Case For Community Management

Long Lake watershed is situated in northwestern Michigan in Grand Traverse County approximately 15 miles east of Lake Michigan and approximately three miles southwest of Grand Traverse Bay.
The “signature feature” of Long Lake watershed is Long Lake itself which dominates the central portion of the watershed, covers @ 2,900 acres and has 16.7 miles of shoreline.

In addition, several smaller lakes, state forest lands and rolling terrain make up the area's hilly topography which is relatively unique in Michigan and contributes to the watershed’s overall visual character and appeal for home sites within high quality viewshed areas.
These features provide residents with a desirable rural living environment dominated by outdoor activities year-round but located in reasonable proximity to the urban amenities of Traverse City.

Unfortunately, with increased urbanization within the watershed, there has been an increase in pollutants over time (including nutrients),which are impacting the lake. Despite the increasing nutrient loads, the lake remains relatively clean and in good condition from an aesthetic, ecological and recreational perspective.

To ensure continued water quality of the many watersheds and inland lakes, the Township applied for and received an MDEQ 319 grant in conjunction with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a township-wide septic inspection and regulation project.

This project will establish a system of, most probably, point of sale septic inspections through either zoning or general law ordinances.
These ordinances will include a system of remediation for those systems found to be performing poorly. It will be designed in a way that it will eventually become self supporting with the ability to build a fund to aid low and moderate-income families in upgrading their systems.

This project will follow the objectives of a goal of the Long Lake
Township Comprehensive Land Use Plan which states:
"All the lakes in Long Lake Township will be characterized by clean water and healthy habitat for native plants and animals while serving as sustainable resources for human recreation and use.”

They have designed the project to:

In order to pre-empt potential conflicts with realtors, title companies, septic haulers and other local units of government, initial work has involved focus groups with representatives from every side of the issue. The next step is to mail letters and informational brochures to all township property owners to help in the understanding of on-site systems and how they can be most effectively maintained for long-term viability.

There must be a scientific basis for the general law ordinance if it is to uphold the Health, Safety, and Welfare standard. GIS is being used to plot Health Department, Township, and Long Lake Association data such as existing systems, priority system of failed systems, places where water quality is lessened. Industry and literature research such as property values and lake quality issues including public health, eutrophication impacts, experience of other communities, and identification of models that work elsewhere.

The project attorney will begin the process of ordinance creation by doing legal research while incorporating the scientific evidence into the draft.

The Planning Commission and Township Board, both meetings including opportunities for further public input, will review and comment on the draft ordinance. With draft comments in hand, the attorney will continue legal research concerning required qualifications of system inspectors. Additionally, he will consult with the Grand Traverse County Health Department for possible intergovernmental agreement. The Planner and attorney will work together to prepare applications and forms needed to administer the ordinance.
Upon completion, the Township Board will approve the final draft.

The last step in the project is to contact and inform interested parties. Staff and the Planner will go back to the same groups that were specifically contacted at the start of the project and bring them up to date so that they will understand how to comply with the new ordinance. Northwest Michigan Council of Governments will provide expertise assistance to develop local government presentations and will conduct informational sessions with other Planning Commissions and Boards.
For more information contact Long Lake Township:(231) 946-2249

Ditching Individual Septic Tanks For Decentralized Wastewater Systems: By Diane McDilda

Since 1950, Minnesota license plates have boasted,“10,000 Lakes” and Cedar Lake is just one of them. Situated in Rice County in southern Minnesota, Cedar Lake spans 804 acres and is surrounded by campgrounds, resorts, and both full-time and weekend getaway homes. As one of the state’s top fishing spots, the lake gives way to the annual Faribault Bass Challenge tournament, drawing 100 anglers or more to vie for the top catch and $2,000 prize money.

Maintaining water quality in Minnesota not only protects sports fishing but also is vital to public health. Immediate threats are bacteria and pathogens contained in untreated sewage, but excessive amounts of nutrients also encourage nitrification of lakes, which promotes algae growth on the surface and can limit clarity and impact other aquatic plants and animals.

Many lakes and water bodies across Minnesota were impacted by shoreline septic systems. A 2004 report to the legislature by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) estimated that 535,000 homes, or 86% of resident population, rely on onsite systems, many of which include septic tanks.
Of those systems, 144,000 were estimated to be failing with 64,000 imminent threats to public heath and safety.

In Minnesota, failures of individual sewage treatment systems (ISTSs) are often the result of a high water table, particularly in the spring when the snows have melted and plants have yet to use the excess water. A sufficient unsaturated zone is needed as the majority of treatment takes place in the soils below or beyond the septic tank, not in the tank itself,
where microorganisms break down waste into less harmful materials. The quality of subsurface soils is also paramount to the ability to treat wastewater. Much of Minnesota is underlain by high-clay soils with low porosity. This limits the flow of water and proper aeration needed by the microbes.

The solution as Minnesota regulators saw it was to encourage individuals and groups to come together and construct their own treatment systems. This would solve the problem of impacted surface water and groundwater without financially burdening municipalities with construction of large centralized wastewater treatment plants. Community wastewater systems are also known as cluster systems, as they serve a cluster of homes, or decentralized systems, as they are separate from larger, more centralized wastewater treatment plants operated by municipalities. Cluster systems generally incorporate septic tanks and drainfields into their design. However, they are located offsite, away from shorelines and private residences.
Regulatory efforts to overhaul the septic problems in Minnesota started in 1974 with ISTS rules that provided advisory guidelines to local regulators. Since then, amendments have been made setting standards for ISTS professionals, requiring certification, and making local governments responsible for regulating ISTSs in their jurisdiction. Response has been good with only two of the 87 counties in Minnesota reticent to developing rules.
In some instances, counties rely on homeowners to take the initiative to repair or replace aging systems; however, that is not the case in Rice County. Direct enforcement isn’t generally used, but strict county ordinances tie properly functioning septic tanks to any home improvement or real estate transaction—a key to educating the public and improving septic systems.

“When a piece of property is transferred, a compliance inspection is done on the sewer system,” says Marilee DeGroot, the Rice County environmental health administrator. “If anyone wants to add a bedroom, they must have a compliance inspection. We believe it’s better to encourage and educate people. Compliance inspections give us the opportunity to help people realize the costs and benefits. The majority of the people are very open-minded.” As a result Rice County has approximately 20 community, or cluster, systems - a large number compared to other counties.
Between wanting to do their part to ensure lake quality and get out from under the onus of county ordinances, a group of residents decided to ditch their personal septic systems for a safer wastewater treatment alternative in 2001. And thus, the Cedar Lake Cluster Association was formed.

Doug Malchow, an educator with the University of Minnesota Extension office, travels the state helping groups identify their goals and learn their options and stresses the importance of water quality. Although optimistic, he admits that many groups aren’t limited just by funding but by mindset too. He applauds the Cedar Lake Cluster Association for working together to improve its situation.
Reproduced, with permission from Nov/Dec 2007 Onsite Water Treatment © FORESTER MEDIA, INC. P.O. Box 3100 • Santa Barbara, CA 93130 805-682-1300

More innovative community options and systems can be found at: www.OnsiteWater.com and on the Water To Waste 2006 pages on our web site

In addition see: www.epa.gov/waterinfrastructure/
Onsite Wastewater of Northwest Michigan utilizes Minnesota Extension “Small Community Wastewater Solutions: A Guide To Making Treatment, Management and Financing Decisions” for community mediation services. see: www.septic.umn.edu

Water To Waste Section Two: Water / Energy Efficiency information and EPA WaterSense Program

Water To Waste Section Three: The inter-relationship between water use, wastewater, the water cycle and wastewater systems.

Water To Waste Section Four: Common sense information about how your wastewater system works

Water To Waste Section Five: Installation, siting, operation and maintenance.

Water To Waste Section Six And Seven: The many amazing things that end up in the waste stream and why we should be careful and concerned.

Water To Waste Section Eight and Nine: The state of our region - an attempt to survey wastewater systems.

Water To Waste Section Ten: The Case For Community Management

Water To Waste Section Twelve: Understanding northwest Michigan geography and geology and how this relates to wastewater.

Water To Waste Section Thirteen: Information about different types of wastewater systems and case studies.

Water To Waste Section Fourteen: A terrible waste to waste - when there's money to be made and saved by innovation.

Water To Waste Section Fifteen: A word about who we are and our goals for the future - how you can help.

Water To Waste Section Sixteen: Gratitude to our sponsors and links to more information.

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