Septic treatment proposal sparks opposition from Realtors

A state agency's proposal to require more extensive and expensive on-site sewage treatment for new homes built on less than an acre has sparked opposition from the real estate community.

Dave Hollingsworth, a Kingman real estate broker and president of the Arizona Association of Realtors, compared the proposed rule change from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality to a growth-control measure on the statewide ballot next Tuesday.

"This regulatory process will be just as detrimental as (Proposition) 202," Hollingsworth said.

"We're doing a call to action to our members."

Hollingsworth was responding to a proposal from ADEQ to prevent groundwater contamination by requiring nitrogen-removing sewage systems for new homes that sit on less than an acre of land.

ADEQ initially presented the proposal in April and forwarded the final version in September to the Governor's Regulatory Review Council, said Chuck Graf, deputy director of the water quality division.

The council is scheduled to conduct a hearing on the unified water quality permit rule Dec.

5.

"We're hoping they will decide that the rule is clear, concise and understandable and that we are intending for it to become effective Jan.

1, 2001," Graf said.

However, Ron Foote, president of the 110-member Kingman/Golden Valley Association of Realtors, said the rule change is difficult to understand and described it as a "rather heavy-handed, one-size-fits-all solution."

Moreover, Hollingsworth contends the council is trying to rush to approve the ADEQ rule change.

He said he thinks a nitrogen-reducing system will be a financial burden on homeowners.

The nitrogen-system costs approximately $7,500, as compared to a conventional on-site system at $2,500, Hollingsworth wrote in a letter dated Monday to Tim Boncoskey of the council.

Writing on behalf of the 23,000-member association, he urged the council to reject the proposed rule change or at least to address the concerns raised in the letter.

The nitrogen-reducing systems cost about double the conventional ones, said Graf, who believes the rule change will increase demand and spur manufacturers to lower the price.

"In ADEQ's view, they want to protect the aquifers from sewage pollution," said Norm Marrah, Mohave County's environmental health manager.

"They are trying to limit the amount of sewage deposited on the (homeowner's) property.

If you have more land (than an acre), there is less concern because you have less concentrations of sewage.

High-density subdivisions have higher densities of sewage deposited into the soil.

And there is always the possibility that sewage may leach down to the water table."

Conventional on-site systems of septic tanks and leachfields deposit a lot of nitrogen in the water table, and nitrates can become a health hazard if they contaminate the water supply, Marrah said.

They can cause blue baby syndrome and may be linked to other health problems, including cancer.

By contrast, nitrogen-reducing systems remove a large percentage of the nitrogen, he said.

The revised rule from ADEQ allows on-site systems to discharge up to 0.15 pounds of nitrogen per day per acre, Graf said.

Graf and Marrah said the rule change stems from septic tank contamination problems in Bullhead City, Lake Havasu City and throughout the state.

"What we are trying to do is protect water supplies so that we can use them in the future and not have to shut down drinking water sources," Graf said.

Foote of the local Realtors association said, "We know you have a responsibility for public health.

We like to know if there is some way to find a compromise.

Nobody is attacking anyone.

I'm only concerned to have a better explanation of why this has to be done."

Impact of proposed rule change remains to be seen (sidebar)

By Ken Hedler

Miner Staff Writer

The proposed rule change on on-site sewage treatment will have an undetermined effect because no one knows for sure how many buildable lots exist that sit on less than one acre.

Norm Marrah, Mohave County environmental health manager, speculated that several thousands lots of under an acre in the county are undeveloped.

And since 1968, his office has issued more than 50,000 permits for septic tanks for both residential and commercial properties.

County planner Bill Delmar said he has no idea as well, but said many half-acre lots are located in the Butler area.

Some homes and businesses in Butler and other unincorporated areas outside the city of Kingman are hooked up to the city's sewer system, said Coral Loyd, finance administrator for the city.

She said 303 of the city's 5,540 sewer customers are located outside the city, adding homes account for 212 of the total.

Residential sewer customers pay $600 to $700 to hook up to the system and about $13 a month for service, she said.

Some major subdivisions within the city, including Rancho Santa Fe, are on septic tanks, city planner Rich Ruggles said.

Under the existing city ordinance, septic systems are allowed in subdivisions with homes on lots of 20,000 square feet (about half an acre) or larger if the existing sewer line is a distance of 500 feet or more.

Existing septic systems on residential land under an acre would not be affected if the rule change is carried out, said Chuck Graf, deputy director of the water quality division for the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

Homeowners would be allowed to replace on-site septic tanks and leachfields with a similar system unless ADEQ determines that the groundwater in the area is contaminated with nitrates.

About 10 percent of the conventional septic systems in the county fail every year, Marrah said.

"Usually, the main cause of failure is the property owner has failed to maintain the system," he said.

"They did not pump out the (septic) tank often enough.

We recommend that they check the tank every year."

"If the septic tank is overloaded and is not pumped, the solids will go out of the tank and into the leachfield and plug up the soil and cause premature failure, and the sewage (to seep) to the surface," Marrah aid.

The environmental health department performs the plan reviews and inspections on septic systems, he said.

Marrah said his department has handouts to educate the public about septic systems.

His office is located in the public works building at 3675 E.

Andy Devine Ave.

For more information, call his office at 757-0901.