State to assume control over all septic systems

Print More

(Host) Starting next week, the state of Vermont assumes control over all septic systems.

This is a huge change that affects tens of thousands of Vermonters. It means a builder or property owner has to go to the state, not their town, to get a permit for a system to treat their sewage.

Proposed new rules also relax some of the requirements for new septic systems. And environmentalists are concerned that the new rules will open up much more land to development.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Consider the humble septic system. Unless your house is hooked up to a city sewage plant, you probably have a pipe running from your house to a holding tank and leach field somewhere in the backyard. A well-working septic system puts nature to work, as beneficial bacteria break down the waste.

Vermont, because of its rural nature, relies more on these systems to treat sewage than any other state.

Beginning next week, the state assumes jurisdiction for all septic and domestic water systems. Environmental Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg told a legislative committee that the change would have a major impact on Vermonters.

(Wennberg) “The number of people, properties, property transactions, families, households that these issues reach out and touch is larger than anything else than the department or I believe the agency does.”

(Dillon) So maybe it wasn’t surprising that there was a crowd on hand when a legislative committee met to consider the state’s new septic rules.

The rules spell out what kinds of systems are allowed. They grandfather all existing systems that were in place before January of this year. And the rules relax some requirements, potentially allowing more homes to be built on smaller lot sizes.

The real estate community praised the rules. Bob Hill is the executive vice president of the association of Realtors.

(Hill) “This is good government in front of us. It was inclusive. It was comprehensive. It was thoughtful. It was careful. It was responsive.”

(Dillon) Hill urged the committee to put its final stamp on the rules. But representatives from the Vermont Natural Resources Council, a statewide environmental group, asked for a delay.

The environmentalists say the rules will cause sprawl by opening up more land to development. And they say some of the new systems allowed under the rules could fail, resulting in polluted water supplies.

Jon Groveman is general counsel for the VNRC. He said the state was supposed to study the impact of the septic changes on groundwater and development. He said the studies were not done as required.

(Groveman) “We need to make sure that we’ve got a handle on this before we’re going to go forward and make wholesale lowering of the design standards for septics.”

(Dillon) The legislative committee ended up postponing a vote until next month, because a state senator who objected to the rules could not be there for the discussion.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

Comments are closed.