On March 5th, during his State of the State address, Governor Mike DeWine proposed the H2Ohio water quality initiative. This initiative is part of his proposed budget for 2020-2021. If approved, it will funnel $900 million over the next ten years, with $85 million spent in the first year, into improving Ohio’s water quality. The specific purpose of H2Ohio is to create funding for “targeted solutions to ensure safe and clean water all across the state of Ohio.” The funding focus would help the state combat water pollution risks including algae blooms, lead contamination, and failing septic tanks.
While the specific language for the H2Ohio initiative has not yet been released, so the details are not yet clear, Governor DeWine has indicated a push for “more aggressive action to address failing septic systems and other water treatment needs across Ohio.” What changes will this initiative bring about for septic owners? Until more details are released, it will be difficult to know for sure, but a look to what the Ohio Department of Health already does to regulate septic systems may provide some insight.
How the Ohio Department of Health Currently Regulates Septic Systems
The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) regulates septic systems across the state, granted authority by state law which was last updated in 2015. Under these code sections (ORC § 3718 and OAC § 3701-29), the permitting, inspections, and enforcement of regulatory standards are conducted by local health districts across the state. These local health districts may choose to adopt more stringent rules than those adopted by the state agency. For example, some counties require point of sale septic inspections, while others do not.
To promote statewide septic system compliance, the ODH Sewage
Treatment Systems program offers technical assistance and training to local
health districts across the state, as well as industry professionals and the
general public, on all aspects of septic systems. This program offers the
following specific assistance:
- Supporting local health districts in the registration of septic installers and haulers;
- Promoting collaborative efforts with other state agencies, academic institutions, watershed groups, and industry and public health organizations to spread the word on septic system issues, including public education on how to properly maintain a septic system;
- Developing administrative rules for siting, permitting, installing, altering, and operating septic systems, with an eye to public health and water conservation;
- Developing standards for handling abandoned septic systems;
- Providing technical review and support for the Sewage Treatment Systems Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) as they review and seek to approve septic components and systems which differ from those outlined by accepted state law; and
- Advising the TAC on the approval or disapproval of new septic system products and components.
Potential Changes to Septic Regulation Under the H2Ohio Initiative
At this point, we can only speculate about what changes to septic regulation may occur under Governor DeWine’s H2Ohio clean water initiative. The specific focus on more aggressive action to address failing septic systems may indicate that some of these standards adopted by local health departments may become applied at a statewide level. However, we do not yet know which of these local standards may get the nod to become more widely adopted across the state. Many of these locally adopted regulations, such as point of sale inspections, may become statewide regulations. For example, prior to 2015, septic system owners were not required to maintain service agreements for their septic systems, but after the adoption of OAC § 3701-29, septic service agreements became a statewide standard. Gauging what standards will be adopted under the H2Ohio clean water initiative is difficult to pinpoint at this stage, but this initiative is already generating widespread support by farmers and septic service providers alike.