|Action||Adopt new performance-based regulations pertaining to locating, designing, constructing and operating onsite sewage systems.|
|Comment Period||Ends 11/12/2008|
Need a fundamental change in regulatory approach NOT just an update of current regulations!
I am very encouraged to see the Board of Health (Board) take this bold step of proposing to repeal the current Sewage Handling and Disposal Regulations (SHDR) and to promulgate a new chapter the Onsite Regulations. It is time for a change, as the SHDR do not and cannot address the current increasing needs for using Land as the receiving environment for partially treated wastewater (effluent). Land offers a great alternative to surface water for discharging effluent from technical and economical viewpoints. The SHDR are written primarily for regulating use of septic tank drain field systems without responsible management. Times have changed, and Virginians now have access not only to advanced technologies for onsite wastewater treatment and effluent dispersal, but also to a responsible management infrastructure for ongoing operation and maintenance of these technologies in a manner similar to what is done for centralized collection and treatment systems, also known as sewer systems. Thus, it is now possible for Virginians to consider use of Onsite Systems as a true alternative to Sewer Systems. Since the difference between use of inadequately managed septic systems and responsibly managed advanced onsite systems is significant, the changes needed in regulatory program (not just regulations) must be equally significant in order to allow the Virginians to be able to use today’s Onsite Systems in an cost-effective and environmentally sound manner. The Board's proposal suggests that the planned regulatory action WILL "update and re-incorporate much of the current SHDR" that makes me wonder if this action can make the changes that are really needed today in the regulatory program. I would suggest that the Board do not just update and definitely do not re-incorporate any of the SHDR, but do consider a fundamental change in the regulatory approach and develop a regulatory program that does the following: (a) clearly define a method to allocate capacity to a piece of land (not just drain field) for assimilating effluent load, both hydraulic and waste load, strictly based on parameters that are easy to understand, and are quantifiable/measurable using easily available tools, (b) clearly define performance expectations for all onsite systems in measurable terms; (c) clearly specify approaches/methods by which the Board will determine if those expectations are met or not met by the permitted onsite systems; and (d) clearly specify the consequences, to the owners of the onsite systems and to the practitioners who provide services to the owners, of meeting and not meeting the performance expectations. The current SHDR attempts to do these items based on approaches that are old and not suitable for the current times, neither from a technical viewpoint nor from an infrastructure management view point. Thus, I strongly encourage the Board to abandon completely the SHDR and start from ground zero for development of the newly proposed regulations for decentralized sustainable wastewater infrastructure. Having worked in the agency at the state level for twelve years, I have gained some understanding of how the current regulatory program works and the challenges associated with making any changes let alone significant changes. But, as we all know, we cannot expect different results from doing things in a same old way, or by attempting to make significant changes one small step taken once every ten years. It is possible for the Board to propose significant changes to the current regulatory frame-work and with appropriate educational approaches, the Board will be able to adapt the new totally different approach for regulating use of onsite systems in the 21st Century. I am ready to volunteer some of my time for this efforts and I am sure that many practitioners who are serious about their work and services they offer to Virginians would do the same. Together, public and private partnership, we will be able to make progress necessary for changing the onsite system regulatory program in Virginia. Thank you.