The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has relaxed proposed rules regarding septic systems in existing and new subdivisions.
The proposed draft framework outlines an "entirely different approach" to controlling discharges of nitrogen from septic tanks, according to an e-mail from ADEQ.
The Governor's Regulatory Review Council in December 2000 scrapped more stringent rules proposed by ADEQ after Mohave County Realtors and developers protested them as being too costly to homeowners and an invasion of property rights.
The proposed rules require future owners to install more expensive, nitrogen-removing system only if ADEQ determines that the property is located in a nitrogen management area, said Chuck Graf, deputy director of ADEQ's water quality division.
The requirement would apply to homes on lots that are an acre or smaller.
The management area would exist where the agency is concerned about levels of nitrogen in groundwater because of discharges from conventional septic systems, according to Graf.
Drinking water with high nitrate levels can harm babies and cause the blue baby syndrome.
No such management areas exist in the state, Graf said.
However, after the rules go into effect, ADEQ will examine areas in Mohave County where septic problems have occurred, such as Bullhead City, Mohave Valley and Lake Havasu City.
"We do have an obligation to protect groundwater quality, and we developed a proposal that we think is much more workable," Graf said.
However, Dave Hollingsworth, a Kingman real estate broker and president of the 24,000-member Arizona Association of Realtors, said the revisions are no improvement than the rule changes previously proposed by ADEQ.
"First off, it is the same rule that we saw on the white paper last time; now it is on blue," Hollingsworth said.
"They have not made any changes.
Secondly, the counties are upset for not making changes."
Pete Byers, a Mohave County supervisor and real estate agent in Kingman, disagrees with Hollingsworth.
"This is much better than it was before," Byers said.
"It will be much easier to deal with and at least we'll know where we are going."
Under the previous proposal, every lot under an acre would automatically be inside a nitrogen management area, Byers said.
"They are going to take into consideration groundwater depth and hydrological conditions," Byers said.
Byers also noted the changes exempting unbuilt lots in existing subdivisions or created by lot splits.
They would require the nitrogen-removing systems only if they are located within a management area.
Byers, who serves on a statewide nitrate management rule committee, attended a meeting last week in which Graf presented the draft rule changes.
He also credited Hollingsworth with helping to change the rules by organizing opposition in November 2000.
Byers "must not have looked at it very closely," Hollingsworth said.
"They still have not grandfathered existing subdivisions," Hollingsworth said.
"They have not moved away from the one-acre minimum.
Before, they were talking about depths of water to 250 feet.
Now, it does not matter if you are 800 feet or 1,000 feet" below the surface.
ADEQ will look at existing subdivisions on a case-by-case basis, Graf said.
"The department would be remiss if we did not address contamination coming from existing subdivisions with high septic tank densities."
Graf said groundwater depth is one of several factors in determining threats posed by conventional septic tanks.
Other factors include housing density, discharges, buildouts of subdivisions and whether groundwater is being used for drinking.
Homeowners in new subdivisions would be exempt if they can demonstrate in a geological report that that their lot's density would not harm the environment or violate water quality standards through septic tank discharges.
ADEQ plans hearings on septic rule changes
The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality drew fire last year from the real estate community in Mohave County for not consulting brokers and agents on proposed stringent standards for septic tanks.
ADEQ hopes to avoid the situation by scheduling meetings throughout the state – and in Mohave County - according to Chuck Graf, deputy director of the agency's water quality division.
ADEQ invited representatives from mines, industry, business, homeowners, cities and towns, urban and rural areas, engineers, contractors and others to participate in the previous revisions, but overlooked Realtors.
After meeting last week with 20 people, including Realtors, ADEQ agreed to a two-week public comment period, according to an e-mail from the agency.
After reviewing the comments, the agency would begin writing the language for the proposed revisions.
ADEQ then would conduct a meeting in about six weeks to present the draft rule language.
The final changes would be presented to the Secretary of State's office.
A public comment period and hearings would follow.
ADEQ would respond to the comments, prepare the final rule changes and submit them to the Governor's Regulatory Review Council.
The council would set a hearing to decide whether to approve the rules.
The hearing before the council is not expected to take place before February 2002.
The rules would go into effect about a week after the council adopts them.
ADEQ e-mailed copies of the proposed rules to about 100 people statewide, Graf said.
Further information can be obtained by sending an e-mail to his administrative assistant, Kami Budhu, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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