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Sewage laws a mess for rural residents

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012 4:58 a.m. CST

Dear Rep. Tom Cross:

I have written a number of letters to you and other members of the Illinois Congressional and state delegations regarding sewers. I wish it were possible to get my mind out of them.

The problem I and other rural village residents face is an Illinois law which requires some of us to obtain access to a public sewer or abandon our property if the law is enforced. That it is not enforced is both a relief and a testament to the SWJ designation of Illinois as the “second worst governed state in the country.” Thank God for California.

The on-site wastewater disposal systems most of us have consist of a septic tank and a leach field. Many village homes are on lots scarcely larger than the building and have only a septic tank, as do small shops, service buildings and even public edifices: the privy era inheritance. Regrettably, septic effluent and failing older on-site systems pollute storm drain systems.

In the past, it was possible to repair failing systems, convert septic tank only properties to pumped septic service, and when conventional systems were inadvisable, build Wisconsin-style mound septic systems. These measures even if enforced by local authorities, were possibly inadequate: however, the law seems extreme in several respects.

The law in effect requires a public sewer for properties not meeting the following: 75 feet between a septic field and well or cistern; 2 feet of depth between the bottom of a septic field and a “limiting” layer (impervious clay or seasonal high water table level, for example); 4 feet to fissured limestone bedrock; one year only of pumped septic service and required hookup to a sewer if within 200 feet.

Where space permits, waivers can be granted; I understand mound systems are “discouraged”; this leaves $20,000-plus recirculating filters and similar advanced systems as the only alternative. Any “failing” systems must hook up to a sewer or get a waiver for an advanced system. As all our systems will fail some day, all of us will have to invest in advanced systems or “join” a sewer.

There are a number of textbooks which criticize large public sewer systems as costly, damaging the environment and inflexible; on-site systems are more economical as well and will ultimately displace the obsolete public sewer model.

Lisbon has received an estimate for a public sewer system for the 100 or so homes near the village center for $3 million, or $30,000 per residence, compared to $20,000 for an advanced system for those failing systems allowed such. Since presently possibly half of us have grandfathered systems and maybe a quarter of us could install an advanced, waivered system to replace a failing system, a public sewer system would be necessary for only 15-20 residences unable to install an advanced system, due largely to the 75 feet distance from a well restriction.

If the law were enforced and no sewer built, these properties would be condemned. Hence our Village board is hoping for a grant and evaluating “alternatives”, thereby enabling the health authorities to defer action as we are “making progress” toward correcting our deficiencies. The net deplorable result of the law is to incur increasing pollution and encourage illegal behavior.

As a start, health authorities should permit pumped septic service where required. Advanced septic system effluent is clean water-the 75 feet limitation seems arbitrary: why not let health authorities waiver it? Advance systems are not dependent on soil conditions — why these constraints?

There must be tens of thousands of you and other elected officials’ constituents adversely affected by the provisions of this law. As more and more voters in rural areas awake to the damage to their property values that enforcement will cause, I believe that the law will ultimately be modified, which gives more of us incentive to procrastinate.

I would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you or a staff member to further discuss this matter.

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