Fees to help end tainting of water

Monday, August 28, 2006 Most of the ditches and pipes identified so far contain gray-water discharges. By ED RUNYAN VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF CORTLAND — When Brian Prunty was a kid, he loved playing in the streams around his home in Mentor. He believes all kids should be able to do this without fear. But in Trumbull County, leaking septic systems make that simple child's pastime a questionable practice. In the past nine months, 85 percent to 90 percent of the outfalls he's observed have had some type of gray-water discharge, such as soap suds or fecal matter. Outfalls are the areas where storm waters collect, such as ditches and pipes. When officials look at such areas, they are trying to determine whether there's an illicit discharge. This is done by checking several days after a rainstorm to see whether water is still flowing. Prunty and John Woolard, former Trumbull County Soil and Water Conservation District storm water coordinator, and others have worked for several years to meet Environmental Protection Agency guidelines contained in a 2003 county storm-water management report. Prunty, urban specialist with the SWCD, is among a consortium of environmental professionals who will be increasing their activities in the coming months as a result of the county commissioners' approving a storm-water utility this month. Purposes Creation of the storm-water utility will provide the funding so that work can continue and be expanded in areas such as detection and elimination of discharges, public education and infrastructure improvements, Prunty said. Prunty and Woolard have observed nearly half of the outfalls in the part of the county being served by the storm-water utility: cities of Cortland, Girard, Hubbard, Niles and Newton Falls; village of McDonald; and the townships of Bazetta, Brookfield, Champion, Howland, Hubbard, Liberty, Newton, Vienna and Warren. And about the only areas where the outfalls do not show signs of gray-water discharge are those that have sewer systems, he said. That seems to confirm local officials' suspicions that most of the discharges are coming from ineffective septic systems. Prunty, who has worked for the SWCD for about 21/2 years, said even he was surprised by the amount of gray-water he's found. "You can drive down the roads and smell it or see the fecal matter," Prunty said. Prunty said he and a storm-water specialist yet to be hired will continue to identify the outfalls through about March 2007. As they identify the outfalls, maps are made that identify them all, as required by the EPA. Frank Migliozzi, the county health department's environmental director, said a simultaneous step is for officials in the townships, cities and village to also monitor outfalls. When they find one that has a discharge, they are required to notify the health department, which will investigate. What's being done Migliozzi said department sanitarians now inspect the septic systems of homes being sold and check complaints from neighbors or zoning inspectors, but having local officials checking the outfalls is new. He said EPA regulations now require political subdivisions to do this; by 2008 they have to monitor outfalls every year. Migliozzi stressed that property owners with septic systems should not assume their system will be identified as failing because of new regulations going into effect Jan. 1, 2007, or because of the enactment of the storm-water utility. The storm-water utility will not produce automatic inspections of septic systems, Migliozzi said. Septic systems that don't exhibit any indication of problems will be left alone. The systems that may need to be upgraded are ones that exhibit a disturbance at the ground level or that release waste that travels through a pipe and enters a stream or other waterway, he said. Where discharges are found at outfalls, a sanitarian will be required to find the source, which could mean inspecting septic systems nearby, Migliozzi said. If the systems don't meet requirements, improvements will be ordered in the same way as they have been in the past, he said. He said the hiring of two additional sanitarians will probably occur next spring, after funding for the workers becomes available. Funding from the utility will also be used to pay most of the salaries of Prunty, three other SWCD employees and Trish Nuskievicz of the county Planning Commission staff. Mike Wilson, SWCD executive director, said he is preparing information now for the county auditor's office to allow collection of $15 (cities and village) or $30 (townships) per year storm water fees to be added to the property tax bills of those served by the storm-water utility. Sometime before the end of the year, affected property owners will receive a mailing from Wilson telling them how much their fee will be. The fees will be charged starting with the tax bills owed at the beginning of 2007. Revenue from the utility will start coming in around April, Wilson said. Stream Watch Prunty said one of the educational goals of the storm-water utility is to restore a program called Stream Watch. The program has existed for many years but has been greatly reduced by lack of funding in the school systems, he said. Many schools that had environmental clubs discontinued them because of lack of funding, he noted. Stream Watch involves kids' taking samples of macroinvertebrates from streams and analyzing them. Identifying the types of life forms found in the streams teaches the kids about the quality of the water in the water being sampled, Prunty said. The samples are taken from streams that are known to be safe. The storm-water utility money will also allow the 10 townships that are part of the program to use their allotment of the money to make infrastructure improvements to their storm-water systems, such as cleaning ditches and catch basins and updating culverts, he said. runyan@vindy.com