|Action||Adopt new performance-based regulations pertaining to locating, designing, constructing and operating onsite sewage systems.|
|Comment Period||Ends 11/12/2008|
O&M does not make a bad site work
It appears the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is shifting it's regulatory compliance focus from assuring that onsite systems are placed in suitable sites that will function properly to allowing onsite systems to be installed most anywhere and then monitoring to determine if they are functioning properly. While this may be the wish of stakeholders such as manufacturers, developers, builders, service providers, and a few private sector engineers, one might wonder if this is the wish of the most important stakeholder, the uninformed homeowner.
VDH has moved from a prescriptive regulation with numerous built-in safety factors to a performance based nightmare. Today's absorption areas can be 1/5 the size of what was previously allowed. In addition, VDH has decreased the minimum depth of non-restrictive soil from from 30 inches to 12 inches (i.e. from the ground surface).
One might conclude that in order to mitigate the loss of safety factors VDH would require a much more extensive site and soil evaluation in order to assure that the onsite system will function hydraulically in very sensitive, high risk receiving environments. However, this is not the case. VDH is going to adopt performance based regulations with no additional site and soil evaluation requirements. It appears that the new regulation will recognize high quality effluent and perpetual O&M as sufficient to overcome problematic sites.
Do we really want to permit sites that are doomed to fail hydraulically, especially when there is little or no accountability (i.e. the homeowner would have to sue the previous owner who would have to sue the builder who would have to sue the developer who would have to sue his AOSE/PE)?
The VDH should make every effort to assure that a system will not be permitted in an unsuitable site. Define system reliability class. Define sensitive, high risk receiving environments. Prescribe minimum site and soil evaluation requirements and buffers based on risk (and when the risk is high the evaluation should be extensive). Then, once a site is determined to be suitable beyond a reasonable doubt, prescribe O&M requirements. As a homeowner, I'd prefer to deal with problems on the front end of the process rather than the tail end (i.e. I don’t want a regulator on my doorstep every few months due to a continuous violation).
Doesn't it make more sense to assure site suitability BEFORE the system is permitted rather than dealing with a malfunction later? Perhaps a stakeholder group should be formed consisting of homeowners who are coping with the malfunction of their brand new systems. It would be interesting to hear how those individuals feel about onsite system designs in high risk receiving environments being based on limited and highly subjective site and soil evaluations with little or no accountability.
One last comment . . . Enforcement under the performance based regulations will be extremely difficult. Specialization will be a must (i.e. local personnel dedicated to enforcement issues only).