RD342 - HB 2322 [2019]: Plan to Transition Septic Pump-Out Oversight and Enforcement in Rural Coastal Virginia – August, 2021

Executive Summary:

During the 2019 Session, the General Assembly approved Chapter 429 of the Acts of the Assembly (HB 2322), directing the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to develop a plan to take over the oversight and enforcement of septic tank pump-outs required pursuant to the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act (CBPA)(*1). HB 2322 limited the scope of the plan to the Eastern Shore, Middle Peninsula, and Northern Neck regions of the Commonwealth. VDH worked with stakeholders from local health departments (LHD), local government, and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), as well as surveying service providers and wastewater disposal facilities, to develop options for the transition of oversight and enforcement of the pump-out program.

There are many options available to transition locally operated septic pump-out programs, either to shifting oversight to VDH or developing new methods of local implementation. This includes voucher programs, enforcement through civil penalties by VDH, and targeted enforcement options. The cost of implementation ranges from zero dollars for the Commonwealth to $6.3 million. The variations in cost depends upon who will bear the financial cost of the program; at zero dollars all costs would be paid for by Onsite Sewage System (OSS) owners. Depending upon the option selected, there may be an additional cost associated with the development of necessary data sets and data collection tools, and cost incurred by other state offices.

Two critical aspects to any transition plan that is selected are ensuring that VDH or localities are provided sufficient resources to create a complete inventory of OSS and that VDH or localities have sufficient staffing resources to conduct oversight of the estimated 104,399 systems in the Eastern Shore, Middle Peninsula, and Northern Neck regions of Virginia.

It is clear that many OSS in these three regions are either not being pumped out every five years, or the pump-outs are not being reported. The three regions combined are currently only achieving about 25% of the anticipated septic tank pump-out goals in the Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) III.

Information from sewage haulers and wastewater disposal facilities indicate there is adequate sewage hauling and disposal capacity for all three regions. However, the majority of disposal facilities are located outside of the three regions, and sometimes outside of the Commonwealth. This lack of disposal capacity within the three regions could increase the cost of pump-outs, which may serve as a deterrent to septic tank pump-outs.

Stakeholders were unanimous in recommending that any transition of oversight to VDH be completed through revisions to the Code of Virginia if the General Assembly chooses to make such as transition. This was recommended to draw a clear distinction as to the entity responsible for oversight. VDH recommends the Phased and Targeted option for transitioning oversight from local governments to VDH. This approach will require legislative action and provides the greatest flexibility for implementation at a reasonable cost to the Commonwealth.
(*1) See § 62.1-44.15:67 et. seq. of the Code of Virginia.