RD883 - Wastewater Infrastructure Working Group Report – December 2021

Executive Summary:

In July of 2019, the Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources, the Secretary of Health and Human Resources, and the Secretary of Commerce and Trade, signed a joint letter of agreement (Appendix A) establishing an interagency Wastewater Infrastructure Work Group to assess wastewater infrastructure needs in the Commonwealth and to develop policy recommendations. The Wastewater Infrastructure Work Group explored the prevalence of failing septic systems, particularly in Tidewater and Southwest Virginia, learned of a pilot program to assess and resolve problems with small municipal sewer systems, and discussed existing barriers to adequate waste treatment. The Wastewater Infrastructure Work Group recommended establishing a policy that prioritizes the Commonwealth’s commitment to providing all Virginians access to affordable waste treatment that supports their health, local economies, and clean water. To position the Commonwealth to seek and prioritize limited funding, the Wastewater Infrastructure Work Group identified research and data needs to more comprehensively and effectively assess wastewater infrastructure problems. Several recommendations from the Wastewater Infrastructure Work Group centered on educating students and the public about wastewater treatment and to prevent infrastructure failures through adequate oversight and proper maintenance. Finally, the Wastewater Infrastructure Work Group identified opportunities to maximize use of existing funding sources for wastewater treatment and recommended increased funding.

In 2021, the General Assembly approved Chapter 382 of the Acts of Assembly (SB1396) which codified certain recommendations from the Wastewater Infrastructure Work Group. SB 1396 amended the Code of Virginia (the Code) to strengthen the Commonwealth’s wastewater infrastructure by adding § 62.1-223.1 to the Code establishing a policy for the Commonwealth to prioritize universal access to wastewater treatment that is protective of public health and the environment, and supports local economic growth and stability. The legislation accomplishes the policy through education, collaboration of government entities, coordination and innovative use of available wastewater infrastructure funding, the consideration of climate change impacts in wastewater regulations, and with a preference for community-based solutions. SB 1396 also added § 62.1-223.2 to the Code to codify the Wastewater Infrastructure Policy Working Group (the Working Group) to consist of appropriate government entities and stakeholders to support and advise the Administration and General Assembly regarding the Commonwealth’s wastewater policy. The legislation also added § 62.1-223.3 to the Code to direct the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) in partnership with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to estimate the amount of wastewater infrastructure funding necessary to implement the Commonwealth’s wastewater policy every four years. The legislation amended § 32.1-164 of the Code to authorize VDH to include considerations for the impacts of climate change in the regulations for design and permitting of onsite sewage systems. Lastly, the legislation amended §32.1-164.1.01 of the Code to authorize VDH to use the funds collected and deposited into the Onsite Sewage Indemnification Fund for loans and grants to assist qualifying homeowners with repairing or improving onsite sewage systems.