RD483 - Report to the General Assembly in Response to House Bill 2477: Steps to Begin Eliminating VDH Site Evaluation and Design Services for Onsite Sewage Systems and Private Wells – November 1, 2017
The strategic vision of the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is to shift site evaluation and design services for onsite sewage systems (OSS) and private wells to the private sector in an orderly manner so limited VDH resources can be focused on improving public health and groundwater supplies. VDH should not provide evaluation and design services when and where a sufficient number of licensed private sector professionals are available to perform evaluation and design services. VDH cannot currently perform higher priority needs to the extent necessary because the law requires VDH to perform soil evaluations and designs. VDH’s 2016 report to the General Assembly recommended enacting a number of statutory, regulatory, and policy changes necessary to achieve the strategic vision.
On March 16, 2017, Governor McAuliffe signed House Bill (HB) 2477 of the 2017 General Assembly Session. HB 2477 requires VDH to take steps to begin eliminating site evaluation and design services for onsite sewage systems and private wells. The bill lays out eight specific tasks which were taken from VDH’s HB 558 Report. HB 2477 focused on the tasks that could be completed by revising agency policies or regulations. HB 2477 also requires VDH to report on its progress in implementing the provisions of the bill and any recommendations for statutory, regulatory, policy, or budgetary changes necessary to implement the provisions of the bill to the Secretary of Health and Human Resources and the Chairman of the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions and Senate Committee on Education and Health by November 1, 2017. Implementation of HB 2477 will require significant input from agency stakeholders.
To implement the requirements of HB 2477 VDH used the recommendations and stakeholder feedback from the HB 558 Report as a starting point. Staff developed multiple workgroups to assist in the development of draft policies and procedures to implement HB 2477. The draft policies and procedures were shared with the Sewage Handling and Disposal Advisory Committee (SHADAC) and Environmental Health (EH) Managers for feedback. Staff also facilitated four meetings across the state with local health department (LHD) staff to provide updates on draft policies and procedures and to encourage LHD staff to share their thoughts on implementing the eight specific tasks in HB 2477.
HB 2477 Implementation
VDH’s response and implementation of the specific tasks contained in HB 2477 is as follows:
Task #1: Require, in cases in which site evaluations and design services for onsite sewage systems and private wells are provided by private sector service providers, that such site evaluation and design service providers disclose to the property owner when a conventional onsite sewage system is an option.
VDH has issued a policy to require private sector service providers and VDH staff to certify on their design that options for conventional onsite sewage systems (COSS) and alternative onsite sewage systems (AOSS) were discussed with the property owner. VDH staff will continue to monitor the disclosure statement through SHADAC meetings and agency interaction with citizens. VDH will update its policy and procedures, if necessary, as designers begin implementing this aspect of the program. Changes to the certification statement might become evident as stakeholders begin working on the expectation to fully inform property owners on the options available for proper sewage disposal and treatment.
Task #2: Revise agency regulations and policies to require VDH staff to inspect all onsite sewage systems and private wells designed by private sector service providers.
VDH has issued a policy requesting that contractors provide VDH with at least 24-hour notice before commencing construction of onsite systems designed by the private sector. Once notified, VDH staff will conduct a site visit during the installation to confirm the location, treatment level, depth, and sizing of the installation. This procedure will provide additional protection and oversight for system installations to protect public health. Previously, VDH inspected only a percentage of private sector designs and all of VDH’s designs. Without a code change, notification by the contractor community will be voluntary. VDH staff will monitor and seek voluntary compliance through training events and interactions with contractors and other stakeholders. VDH will continue to seek ways to improve oversight of the program with installers.
Task #3: Expand efforts to educate the public concerning the design, operation, and maintenance of onsite sewage systems and private wells.
VDH developed an outline for onsite sewage and private well education and outreach programs, and is using the outline for two pilot projects: one on a statewide level and one on a local level. VDH staff will continue to develop outreach programs for stakeholders and develop lessons learned from the two pilot projects to inform and improve future work in this area.
Task #4: Expand efforts to incorporate onsite sewage systems and private well data into community health assessments.
The Office of Environmental Health Services (OEHS) worked with LHD’s to develop a list of possible stakeholders to include in community health assessments and a list of external environmental data sources that can be used as part of a community health assessment. OEHS also provided training on a national protocol for conducting community based EH assessments. These efforts will be enhanced when the new data system is put in place.
Task #5: Enhance quality assurance checks and inspection procedures for the review of evaluations, designs, and installations by private sector service providers and update VDH’s quality assurance manual to reflect this change in the agency’s business model.
VDH is finalizing edits to the Onsite Quality Assurance Manual to include new procedures for inspections. The new manual will have an improved method for tracking adherence to quality assurance measures. VDH also established several workgroups to rewrite and update GMPs to promote consistency. Staff have also begun devising a standardization plan for all onsite staff. Once implemented, the standardization plan will likely improve consistency across the Commonwealth.
Task #6: Consider separating work unit functions regarding permitting and enforcement for onsite sewage systems and private wells to ensure that staff reviewing evaluations and designs for permitting purposes are separate and independent from staff performing enforcement functions.
VDH convened a workgroup to consider options and review how other agencies address permitting and enforcement. VDH is considering a local enforcement model for initial implementation of separating work unit functions. In this local enforcement model, one person will supervise the permitting and enforcement functions, which will be separated to the extent possible. The local enforcement model operates similarly to VDH’s current model, except the future model will separate permitting and enforcement functions, allowing for greater expertise and efficiency in each area. VDH will consider adopting a regional enforcement model when adequate resources are available. A regional model would operate for a region with permitting and compliance staff remaining within the local health department. VDH will continue to monitor changes in its procedures to improve efficiency for permitting and enforcement.
Task #7: Improve the collection and management of data about onsite sewage systems and private wells, including (i) creating a web-based reporting system for conventional onsite sewage system operation and maintenance, (ii) accepting applications and payments online, (iii) making onsite sewage system and private well records available online, (iv) creating a complete electronic record of all permitted onsite sewage systems and private wells in the Commonwealth, and (v) creating procedures for tracking Notices of Alleged Violations and corrective actions.
A new EH data management system is slated to be in place by January 1, 2019. The new system will include: a web-based reporting system for COSS; a method for accepting applications and payments online; a method for making onsite sewage and private well records available online; and tracking Notices of Alleged Violations and corrective actions. VDH has also instituted several pilot projects to develop a process for creating a complete inventory of onsite sewage systems and private wells and is making progress. OEHS has also created a new data management division which will assist in monitoring and implementing the new data system. The new system will likely have improved reporting capabilities.
Task #8: Revise agency policies to allow the transfer of valid construction permits for onsite sewage systems and private wells to new property owners.
VDH issued a policy with procedures to facilitate the transfer of valid construction permits. VDH will continue to monitor the implementation with the SHADAC and other stakeholders. Private sector providers have questioned whether the transfer of permits will impact private party contracts. For example, future owners may not understand important aspects of the permit such as clearing requirements or other contractual obligations. Private sector providers believe this policy directive could lead to problems so VDH will continue to monitor the policy’s effectiveness and respond to concerns as necessary.
In addition to implementation of eight tasks contained in HB 2477, VDH recommends the following actions be taken to ensure full implementation of the agency’s strategic vision:
Amend the Code of Virginia to give well drillers the authority to perform sanitary surveys for locating wells and submitting work to VDH.
Amend § 32.1-163 of the Code of Virginia to revise the definition of maintenance, such that paperwork is reduced for certain types of repairs or voluntary upgrades.
Amend § 32.1-164 of the Code of Virginia to establish an O&M program and reporting for COSS, which will improve program oversight and protection of public health and groundwater.
Amend the Code of Virginia to shift onsite sewage system evaluations and design services which are not associated with a building permit or the repair of a failing system (i.e., subdivision reviews, certification letters, and voluntary upgrades) to the private sector by July 1, 2018.
Amend the Code of Virginia to shift new construction evaluations and designs which are not for a principle place of residence to the private sector by July 1, 2018.
Amend the Code of Virginia to require VDH to establish guidelines to help property owners with a specific hardship and be a provider of last resort.
Amend the Code of Virginia to require applicants to petition VDH to provide evaluation and design services for new construction, repairs, and safe, adequate, and proper (SAP) evaluations.
Amend the Code of Virginia to ensure the orderly transition of evaluations and designs for new construction, repair, and SAP evaluations over a five-year period based on a sliding scale of income eligibility.
Amend the Appropriations Act to allow VDH to retain its current level of funding during and after the transition of direct services to private sector service providers. Keep VDH funded to maintain staffing levels necessary to provide oversight, improve O&M of AOSS and alternative discharging sewage systems, improve management of onsite sewage system and private well data, and incorporate onsite sewage systems and private wells into community health planning.
Amend the Code of Virginia to create a fund to cover the cost of designing and installing repairs for failing onsite sewage systems and private wells for income eligible property owners.