Tuesday, June 19th, 2007
By Nancy Allen
Grand Lake group considers funding effort to keep stricter septic system law
  The Lake Restoration Committee on Monday night voted to spend $1,000 to lobby the Ohio legislature to keep in place the new, stricter private septic system law that went into effect Jan. 1.
The money will go to the Ohio Environmental Council, which already has started lobbying efforts to keep the law in place.
The LRC, part of the nonprofit Lake Improvement Association, in recent years has been active in bringing water quality issues in the Grand Lake Watershed to the attention of the surro unding community. The Grand Lake/Wabash River watershed has been deemed one of the most degraded in the state based on water quality testing done by the Ohio EPA.
The LIA has lobbied state and federal agencies for money to put conservation practices on the land, donated money to buy land in the watershed to be kept in greenspace areas and made money available to watershed landowners to augment existing government conservation programs that pay landowners to install filter strips.
"Now we are faced with a rollback in Ohio law that is going to leave our creeks and streams open to raw, human sewage," said Lake Improvement Association President Bill Ringo. "Three years ago state lawmakers voted to set minimum standards that only came into effect a few months ago and now lawmakers seem to be bowing down to pressure."
The Ohio Senate last week voted to delay for two years the new private septic system rules that went into effect Jan. 1 and appointed a task force to study the issue and come up with alternative legislation, Sen. Keith Faber, R-Celina, reported. The measure to delay the new septic system rules was added to the state budget bill and is still subject to conference committees and the governor's veto. In the interim, local county health departments will be able to adopt their own rules to address their particular situations, Faber said.
Faber said the delay in the law represents a more balanced approach than a bill introduced by the House a few weeks ago. The House bill wanted to completely rescind the new septic law.
State Rep. Jim Zehringer, R-Fort Recovery, said he was in favor of rescinding the rules because he does not agree with some parts of the rules.
He initially supported the new law when he was a Mercer County Commissioner, but changed his position after the rules were written. He said some of the rules do not work for every county.
"I certainly supported the idea of keeping our rivers and streams clean, but there are some laws that need tweaking and changing," Zehringer said. "This was one that after you learned about it, there was no support for it in its entirety and because we were receiving so many calls from concerned constituents, we needed to address that."
Studies done by The Ohio State University show that 85 percent of the type of septic systems installed in the Grand Lake area fail within two years, primarily due to the heavy clay soil.
The new septic law and accompanying rules that became effective Jan. 1 requires on-site systems that do not discharge and are more environmentally friendly. But those systems require more land and detailed soil testing and engineering, which could cost property owners up to $15,000, about triple what people currently pay.
Mercer County Commissioner Bob Nuding said none of the roughly 20-member legislative committee of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio wants the law rescinded or put on hold.
"This is a moratorium. Even a moratorium puts us back to the rules of 1977. They form this committee; they do this and that ... the point is, you are still losing two years," he said.
Grand Lake/Wabash Watershed Alliance Coordinator Theresa Dirksen said she is against reverting to the old 1970s law and sent a letter to Faber opposing rescinding the law after the Ohio House introduced the bill to do so.
Replacing failing septic systems is one of the objectives outlined in the Grand Lake/Wabash Watershed Alliance Action Plan and would move the watershed group toward the goal of improved water quality, Dirksen said.
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