Pending Michigan bill seeks to curb septic waste seeping into land, water

By Xinjuan Deng

Capital News Service

LANSING– Michigan municipal waste facilities would be required to accept all septic waste produced within 25 miles under a bill awaiting action in the Senate.

Under current law, local governments can decide whether to allow septic waste to be applied on land. If a locality requires that all septic waste be disposed of in a receiving facility or prohibits land application of septic waste, it must make available a treatment facility.

A pending Michigan bill would decrease the travel distance of septic haulers. Photo: 4Cheungs (Flickr)

This bill is intended to make it easier to treat the waste that can cause serious health problem, supporters say.

“This is a bit of a chicken-and-egg issue,” said Chuck Hersey, environmental programs manager of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments. “Many communities want to discourage or prohibit land application to protect water quality. But to avoid land application, you need to have a conveniently located disposal facility for haulers.”

The legislation is a response to a 2007 court decision in a Grand Traverse County case.

Rep. Ken Goike, R-Ray Township, is the primary sponsor. Co-sponsors include Reps. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes; Paul Muxlow, R-Brown City; Peter Pettalia, R-Presque Isle; and Joe Haveman, R-Holland.

“Currently, in some communities under the law, haulers have to travel 100 miles to dispose of such waste, which is a quite costly way,” said Kyle Kaminski, Goike’s legislative director. “This legislation should help keep septic service costs down by saving fuel and also help prevent some system failures.”

Although the legislation is promoted as an environmental benefit, some groups question its economic feasibility.

“This legislation presents a possible unfunded mandate on local units of government,” said MoReno Taylor, legislative coordinator for the Michigan Association of Counties. “It would unfairly burden those counties that chose to prohibit land application of waste by legislating that a facility must be built to accept that waste if one is not already available. This could cost millions of dollars.

“The cost of transporting it is a business-related expense that the individuals were well aware of when they went into the hauling business,” Taylor said. “Those costs are already being passed along to the consumers that they service. This bill in my opinion only benefits one group.”

Tom Frazier, legislative liaison of the Michigan Townships Association, said the cost of disposal may go up if the legislation is passed, and “if the pumping cost increases, people may not pump out very often.”

Another argument focuses on local control of decisions whether to allow land application of septic waste, Taylor and Frazier said.

But Kaminski said the most important part of the bill is “helping local communities handle the waste problem, not only to make decisions, but also be responsive to this problem.”

The Department of Environmental Quality is neutral on the legislation, communications director Brad Wurfel said.

“The question is not whether current laws are sufficient. It’s whether the present regulatory structure addresses two key priorities: Does it protect the environment effectively? And is it reasonable and workable for the regulated community?” Wurfel said.

The bill was approved by the House and is pending in the Senate.

6 thoughts on “Pending Michigan bill seeks to curb septic waste seeping into land, water

  1. I think Mr Taylor and Frazier need to get the facts straight !

    Mr Taylor states that this Legislation will put an unfunded mandate on local Units of Government(LUG’s). I think it will do just the opposite, it keeps the local LUG from making unfunded mandates. There is no mandate necessary if the LUG does not pass an ordinance of “no land application of septage”.

    Mr Frazier says the cost of disposal may go up if this legislation passes. False again, The cost of disposal will go up if the LUG bans land application and mandates septage be hauled to a receiving facility.

    The control still rests in the hands of the LUG. This Legislation puts responsibility in those same hands.

  2. Land application of organic wastes can be a useful way to recycle nutrients, yet there are several serious problems that can result from improper application. Sandy and Harold both raise good points, as well.

    There are many differences between household septic wastes and the wastes and liquids from municipal sewage treatment plants. Septic wastes are much less likely to be contaminated with toxic heavy metals like mercury and organic chemicals like PCBs. Municipal waste streams often contain these pollutants and when they are spread on land or discharged to water, they end up entering the food web.

    At the same time, the sheer volume of wastes from municipal sources can overwhelm the assimilative capacity of the land, particularly when high phosphorus levels are already present in soils (as pointed out by Sandy).

    The most acute problem with land spreading of wastes is direct runoff to surface waters where decomposition creates oxygen deficits that kill aquatic life. This problem can be essentially eliminated with proper waste management plans that establish buffers along waterways and call for soil testing. Prohibiting land applications in areas of high permeability (e.g. karst) or shallow groundwater levels is another step that can reduce the risk of pollution.

    So, while it’s important to assist homeowners with septic tank maintenance, addressing the pervasive contamination of waterways by sewage treatment plants should continue be a top priority.

    Sewage treatment plants are also among the largest sources of phosphorus to surface waters.

  3. i think a ban on land application would b a mistake this would ultimatly cost consumers much more for septic tank servicing as well as put more unnessisary local control lets face it our standerd local units of goverment certainly dont have properly trained personel to handle any part of the part 117 nor do they remotely begin to understand it. this would be another mistake costing homeowners in the long run. Is this really the best way to handle septic tank waste? remember this type of waste is a great source of nutrient for farm land and it is aproven fact that land application is a much better practice than discharging at various treatment facilitys which could result in actual river and lake contamination due to untreated discharge of waste. come on people wake up is more regulation really needed here.

  4. This is a fair piece of legislation as it still allows for local control of the decision of whether or not land application is allowed but requires that local and county government be responsible for the consequences of their decision if they decide to ban land application. The comments of Taylor and Frazier are off base. Does Taylor really think it’s fair to adopt a land ban ordinance and then not provide any alternative for where the material can be taken? That’s ridiculous–stand up and be accountable for your decision.

  5. Somewhat of a tangent…but septic systems always seem to get a bad rap. Historically, municipal sewer systems have been favored as a means of reducing water pollution. But if you compare water quality in urbanized areas served by sewer systems to areas served primarily by septic systems, the water quality is invariably worse in the sewered area. That is primarily because municipal sewers attract more intensive development which leads to greater amount of impervious surfaces. That, in turn, leads to higher nonpoint source problems associated with stormwater runoff. Stormwater carries a considerable amount of pollutants, from heavy metals to fecal coliform bacteria. Water quality is and should be a primary concern, but getting there is not always a clear-cut path.

  6. How about tackling the problem of thousands of tons of sewage sludge and over 45 billion gallons in overflows from the Detroit Wastewater plant? And how about banning fertilizer(including manure) from being applied on frozen ground? And how about not allowing manure to be spread on fields with phosphorous loads far in excess of what is needed?
    Septic systems are a problem – but they mostly involve the little guy who is easy to prey on. How about some parity for the major contributors to water quality problems, especially nutrients and algae?

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