THE EFFECTS OF DEREGULATION IN BRITISH COLUMBIA
The Sewerage System Regulation Improvement Coalition has prepared a 75 page report of the problems with the new septic regulations in British Columbia. The following text is taken from their more concise Ministerial Brief. General information as well as the main report, can be found at the Environmental Law Centre – University of Victoria.
The regulation of small-sized, non-municipal sewage disposal systems used to be governed by the Sewage Disposal Regulation under the Health Act. On May 31, 2005, the old Regulation was replaced by the new Sewerage System Regulation. As a result, a number of substantive changes were made to the form and substance of government oversight of small-scale sewage systems. The Sewerage System Regulation Improvement Coalition (SSRIC) believes that without immediate amendments to the Regulation, serious long-term environmental and public health problems will inevitably result.
PROBLEMS WITH THE SEWERAGE SYSTEM REGULATION
The SSRIC has identified a number of problems with the new Sewerage System Regulation. The critical deficiencies are:
Loss of public health protection:
The new regulation has seriously reduced the level of protection for the public and to the environment. Certain essential, minimum and enforceable requirements (such as minimum set-backs of sewer systems from wells and bodies of water such as streams and lakes) and a prohibition of certain types of systems found in the old regulations have been replaced with an “outcome-based, industry-focused regulation” and a reliance on vague and unenforceable “standard practices”.
Lack of oversight:
The new “self-regulatory” model with only after-the-fact enforcement by local health authorities does not provide the same degree of public protection as existed under the old regulation with its plan approval and construction oversight by health officials. For example, the new Regulation requires that systems be designed and installed following “standard practice” which is highly subjective and not defined within a Manual that is used by only some of the registered practitioners. Public health officials no longer make decisions on public health risks.
Deregulation results in greater confusion:
The lack of specific requirements in the new Regulation has necessitated the production of a Standard Practice Manual by the industry that is nearly 300 pages in length and is even more detailed, complex, prescriptive and confusing than the old regulations. Under this approach, it is possible that a sewerage system could be designed and installed right next to a community drinking water well.
The over -prescriptive Manual has had unintended effects:
The detailed and prescriptive Standard Practice Manual has become the de facto regulation for non-engineer registered practitioners because the regulatory body for these practitioners (the Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of BC) requires its members to comply with this manual while, to date, the engineering profession has not adopted a set of sewerage construction standards that engineers must follow. This has created a non-level playing field and resulted in further confusion and disagreement.
No public accountability:
The Ministry of Health has effectively abdicated any meaningful oversight of the small-scale sewerage industry, because it has failed to ensure that there are effective accountability mechanisms built into the new system. A severe dichotomy has resulted between allowing innovation and creativity, and utilizing accepted procedures which were supposed to ensure public health and environmental protection.
Greater costs to the public:
The substantive changes in the regulatory regime for small-scale sewer systems have resulted in significantly greater costs to members of the public who want to install a sewerage system on their property, but arguably with less health benefits to the broader community than were provided under the previous more prescriptive regime.
Many illegal installations:
It is estimated that a substantial number of all new sewage systems are now being improperly if not illegally installed, and many are being built without proper or complete filings. The Coalition believes that, unless corrected soon, these problems will inevitably lead to contamination of the environment and harm to the public’s health. This will lead to greater litigation and substantial costs for correction.
Additional Problems with the current Sewerage System Regulation
1. Currently a knowledgeable homeowner can build his own home in BC but no longer has the right to install his own sewage system.
2. Currently sewage system plans are no longer “approved” by health authority staff but a copy of the plans must be “filed” by the Authorized Person installing the system with the local health authority. Staff with the health authority have no authority to intervene at the file submission stage or during installation of a sewage system even though it may be believed the installation could create a health hazard or environmental pollution in the future. This is a source of significant concern and confusion within the industry.
3. The Standard Practice Manual was developed by the BC OnSite Sewage Association and is owned and printed by the Ministry of Health, but it has been developed with little or no input from outside the industry.
4. The Sewage System Leadership Council that was established by the Ministry of Health to provide advice and guidance on the implementation of the Sewerage System Regulation does not contain a balance of representatives from the sewage industry and recognized public health and environmental organizations whose mandate is to protect and enhance the health of the public and the environment. Additional representation from public health and environmental organizations is needed on this Council.
5. Currently there is no independent auditing process to ensure that the small scale sewage systems being installed across BC are actually being (a) installed properly, and in accordance with their design and good engineering practice, and (b) built by qualified and registered contractors and professionals with appropriate experience in the installation of on-site sewage systems, hydrogeology, soil analysis, etc.
To address these serious problems, the SSRIC proposes the following solutions:
1.The Ministry of Health undertake a complete review and rewrite of the Sewerage System Regulation to correct numerous problems and deficiencies that have been noted since its approval in 2005. In particular, it is essential that minimum separation distances that are necessary to ensure the protection of the public’s health and safety (many of which existed in the old regulation) be returned as enforceable requirements.
2.The Ministry develop a new Standards of Practice Manual that will be appropriate for and followed by all persons involved in the installation of sewage disposal systems under the revised Regulations. This would involve input from the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC, the Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of BC, the BC OnSite Sewage Association, identified public health and environmental organizations, and in particular the general public.
3.The Ministry establish a separate inspection, auditing and enforcement agency that is arms-length from the industry-dominated BC OnSite Sewage Association.1 This new small-scale sewerage inspection agency must report to the Minister of Health on an annual basis as to the status of sewerage system regulation within the province. The Minister should have the authority to appoint all members of the board of this new agency, including a minimum of one half public representatives who have no links to the sewerage industry.
The SSRIC is a coalition of individuals and professional associations concerned about the new Sewerage System Regulation, and is made up of the following (in alphabetical order): (a) BC Shellfish Growers Association; (b) Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors, BC Branch; (c) Public Health Association of BC.
Tim Roark: Cell – 778-231-2426; Office – 778- 574-1188; Email:TDRoark@shaw.ca
Calvin Sandborn Legal Director, UVic Environmental Law Centre: 250-472-5248
Environmental Law Centre – University of Victoria