WOSSA Continues to Need Your Help!
Three Bills in the 2017 Legislative Session affecting the Onsite Industry…
WOSSA has been actively involved representing the industry since its beginning. Back then the great debate was over who was allowed to do OSS design and the final result was establishing WOSSA to defend the OSS Designer licensing program that we have today. Since then and in recent years, WOSSA has been involved with legislative efforts on behalf of the industry and the members that we serve. As a business owner, why should you support WOSSA? The short answer is leverage and resources! Without a professional organization to represent you, your business is subject to lots of things outside of your control…especially government making new rules while you are out there working. You do not have to be an island, fighting for your bottom line every day.
This year, WOSSA worked with Representative Peterson and our industry lobbyist to develop and promote HB-1476 (Bill sponsors: Peterson, Buys, Van Werven, Short)
“Ensuring the ongoing viability of safe, reliable, on-site sewage systems in marine counties by identifying best management practices with accountability in on-site program management plans without creating or newly authorizing a fee or other program funding source.”
Over the past two sessions, the state DOH has supported the local health jurisdictions pursuing a funding mandate from the legislature, but when asked by the legislators, they have not been able to explain how they plan to use the funds, how they came up with the amount needed or what fees would go away. This isn’t too hard to understand when you take a look at the variation in fee schedules, individual fees, pass through fees, reporting fee’s, application fees, re-application fees, vehicle (pump truck) inspection fees and more. It becomes even more convoluted when the LHJ budgeting process is limited to estimating fee changes based on what neighboring LHJ’s are charging, and the goal is to be “somewhere in the middle.” As a result, the DOH legislative initiative couldn’t gain any traction and was not pursued in 2017.
HB - 1476 is mostly about planning, accountability, and the finding of efficiencies at the local level. As written, it only applies to the 12-marine counties and enacts no new laws for OSS. As business owners that interact on an ongoing basis with all of these LHJ’s, we have heard so many stories on how the local process adds cost to your clients that is misunderstood or could be done more effectively. The LHJ’s say that staff, time and budgets (lack of) are a major part of the root cause...and we agree. In our view, taxes and fees on septic system contractors and homeowners are already high enough, and local health jurisdictions should pursue alternatives before seeking additional tax or fee increases.
Since the original rule implementation, the initial requirement to submit an O&M plan to the Department of Health has only been done once. Local management planning continues, but on average, according to the DOH only 24% of the OSS’s in the 12 Marine Counties are under management since the program started 10 years ago. That’s a lot of activity, but not much progress as LHJ’s do their best just to keep up. As Industry, we think that we can do better.
This bill, which would include specific details about revenue sources that are linked to progress of managed infrastructure in management plans is not an unreasonable request, and would help LHJ’s have a better discussion in their local government councils.
Why should you care?
Enter the Property Rights Activists – COOMWA (Citizens Opposed to On-Site Sewer System Management Washington) and CAPR (Citizens Alliance for Property Rights
SB 5281 – (Bill sponsors: Angel, Fortunato, Fain, Sheldon, Hobbs) took up these citizen activist causes:
(3) (a) The state board shall adopt rules for the design, construction, installation, operation, and maintenance of those on-site sewage systems with design flows of less than three thousand five hundred gallons per day.
(b) Rules under this subsection must not require that a use permit be encumbered by a monitoring contract between a private company and a private individual.
(c) Rules under this subsection must not require dedicated easements for the inspection, maintenance, or potential future expansion of an on-site sewage system.
(d) An existing on-site sewage system must not be excluded from repair or required to be replaced if a repair returns an on-site sewage system to its previous functioning state.
Septic system management/oversight is not a bad thing unless you’re a homeowner that just doesn’t want to do it or thinks that not having it pumped out for 25 years somehow, is a badge of honor. We all have stories of what happens next when the failing drainfield is running off onto a neighbor’s property or a system is unrecoverable after years of neglect and abuse. LHJ On-Site management programs protects the rights of every other property owner and allows for the continuing use and permitting of low-level, less expensive septic systems.
Most septic system owners do their best, to maintain their systems but for many it is worse if the property with the failing septic system is leaking surfacing sewage onto an adjoining property or is circumventing anything that looks like good practice on purpose.
Industry knows that septic system inspections, as stipulated in WAC 246-272A-0270 that say “every three years for a gravity system” and “annually for a system with an electric pump” is an effective way to insure the longest life possible for a homeowners system. There are plenty of examples where the failure to inspect and conduct routine maintenance when needed, shortens the life of the system and greatly increases the odds of a full replacement and the cost to do it.
Unfortunately, legislators have received some very bad information about the on-site sewage system industry from several of these property rights groups including claims that OSS service providers illegally trespass onto private property, often at the direction of Local Health and do work that wasn’t asked for and leave a bill. Senator Angel bought into these claims and testified on behalf of her own bill when it was introduced into the House Environment Committee that they were true.
Industry just doesn’t go onto a property without permission from the homeowner and do work that isn’t asked for. Why would you??? Just like any other building contractor, we are called by a customer and we schedule an appointment. Some LHJ’s like Thurston, even have this notification requirement embedded in code. We never begin work without a signed work order or an agreement in place to do work based on some finding during the inspection. Entering a property without permission is trespassing, and when asked, these property rights groups would not provide a single name of a company that they claimed has done this.
We do NOT try to force, or otherwise encourage, property owners to purchase expensive “Cadillac” septic systems. We understand that even low-level septic systems can be a financial challenge for many of our customers. So, we do our best to find a system that meets all of the code requirements for that specific piece of land, and do not pressure our customers to purchase any unnecessary level of technology. Claims that industry is in “cahoots” with Local Government to require homeowners to buy “Cadillac systems” by these property rights activists is giving our industry a bad name and we need your help to push back!
Other elements of SB 5281 really demonstrate the lack of understanding by these groups and bill sponsors as they try to take a broad stroke generic approach to management (or not) of the OSS infrastructure in WA.
Rules regarding a use permit associated with an O&M contract and requirements for a dedicated easement, protect property rights. Especially if the OSS owners drainfield component is located on an adjacent property that doesn’t belong to them. Or, how about a Table IX repair on beach front property where a common drainfield is used by three homes on only one of the properties. This exactly describes the solution that Pierce County had when they were dealing with homeowners on Dash Point to solve a decade old issue of direct discharge on the beach. The homeowner with the only available drainfield component and all three properties had to agree to an easement and an O&M monitoring permit before the repair goes forward. Guess which one is going to sell his property as soon as all this is completed?
The last section allows a “repair” of a (failing) system to its previously functioning state. We do this now whenever possible, but there are circumstances when it may not be a good idea. Like drainfield components installed back in the day when vertical separation for gravity systems was allowed with only 12” to a water table….do we want to grandfather those in under this kind of a rule? Science has moved along in the last 30 years and knowing what we know now the current rules that require 36” from the bottom of the trench.
These activist groups attacking our industry, aren’t actually involved in our industry, but they are trying to change the rules that will affect you and your customers. WOSSA made a focused effort to reach out to them and work collaboratively, asked them for the names of companies that were trespassing and doing work without permission and they could not produce one single name…and yet called us “arrogant” because their narrative didn’t fit reality.
Yet one more bill was introduced in the session, which directly affects our industry.
HB 1503 - 2017-18 (Sponsors: Short, Taylor, Van Werven, Buys, Haler, Kraft, Hargrove)
Preventing unfunded mandates involving on-site sewage systems from affecting local governments and property owners. At the time of this writing, the bill has just been pulled from Rules committee and has been passed by the Senate, by the time this goes to publication.
This bill in its original form had the potential to have a direct impact on our industry and your ability to do business. Its original language was:
NEW SECTION. Sec. 1. A new section is added to chapter 36.70A6 RCW to read as follows:
This chapter, including but not limited to RCW 36.70A.070 (1) and (5), and any interpretation of this chapter does not apply to or govern the operation, permitting, maintenance, and inspection of on- site septic systems. For the purposes of this chapter, protecting the quality or quantity of surface or groundwater resources does not require any county or city to impose obligations on property owners that are not required or authorized specifically under chapter 70.0514 or 70.118A 15 RCW.
NEW SECTION. Sec. 2. A new section is added to chapter 70.118A16 RCW to read as follows:
This chapter does not require a local health jurisdiction to require that periodic inspections of an on-site sewage system in operation be conducted by a professional inspector.
Nothing in this chapter prohibits a county from relying on self-inspection of on-site sewage systems for the purposes of protecting the quality or quantity of surface or groundwater resources under chapter 36.70A RCW.3
NEW SECTION. Sec. 3. A new section is added to chapter 70.054 RCW 5 to read as follows:
This chapter does not require a local board of health to require that periodic inspections of an on-site sewage system in operation be conducted by a professional inspector. Nothing in this chapter prohibits a county from relying on self-inspection of on-site sewage systems for the purposes of protecting the quality or quantity of surface or groundwater resources under chapter 36.70A RCW.
This is a good example of how a badly written bill, can have “unintended consequences”. The idea was to strengthen the ability for homeowner inspections. The effect was to re-define the “Certified Inspectors operating under the authority of the LHJ” that currently do this work, to be just about anyone in business, including plumbers, handy man, and real estate inspectors, with the generic language of “professional inspector”.
Through the considerable effort of WOSSA and our lobbyist presence in Olympia, we were able to minimize the impact of this bill language to eliminate this last paragraph of “inspections by a professional inspector” (above), but the engrossed substitute version expanded the language to include (literally) everyone and their brother:
NEW SECTION. Sec. 1.
A new section is added to chapter 36.70A6 RCW 7 to read as follows: This chapter does not preclude counties from authorizing inspections of on-site sewage systems to be conducted by a homeowner, a homeowner’s family member, or a homeowner’s tenant that has completed certification requirements specified by the county. Nothing in this section eliminates the requirement that counties protect water quality consistent with RCW 36.70A.070 (1) and (5).
Based on the actual experience of several LHJ’s that have tried this type of a program, we continue to see this as a terrible waste of LHJ resources and problematic for property owners. In San Juan County LHJ, they have trained over 5,000 homeowners do to periodic inspections over the last few years. In 2016, they received just a little over 650 reports…how efficient a use of LHJ staff time to support their O&M program is that? In Kitsap County, the staff commitment to developing, and oversight of the homeowner inspection program has yielded just SIX home owners that have completed the requirements to self-inspect according to Keith Grellnor’s testimony to the committee….how can that be an effective use of staff and budget?
In the pictures on page 9, you see a property owners “tenant” who runs a day care. The story on this one, is that the property owner paid for the replacement of the first pump when it was toast from too many diaper and wipes. When the pump went out the second time, the tenant and owner got into a fight over who was going to pay, and the tenant ended up down at Home Depot or Lowes with a submersible pump, and enough 3” lay flat hose (that runs through the daycare playground) to get under the fence and pump it off the property. She’s moving in three months to a new facility, and doesn’t want to spend the money…
Could this be better served with an O&M monitoring contract? Could this be better served by a professional inspector vs the property owner and tenant fighting about it and doing nothing? Worse, the daycare operator’s solution?
These political activist property rights groups have taken aim at our industry and they are not going to go away anytime soon. The WOSSA Board at its quarterly April meeting is discussing plans for this new threat to our industry. It’s important, and it’s more important that you get involved. So, stay tuned we are making plans for 2017- 2018, keeping an eye on Olympia and will be reaching out to our members and industry non-members for ways that you can help.
Failed Daycare Septic System
Direct Discharge to Puget Sound from Residence
Surfacing Effluent at Children's Daycare
Children's Daycare with Surfacing Effluent in Play Area