County Council discusses proposed wastewater regulations

Sussex County Council members heard from DNREC representatives this week about proposed changes to regulations regarding onsite wastewater and treatment disposal systems. Dave Schepens, program manager for groundwater discharge systems for DNREC, gave the council some background on the proposed regulations at the request of Councilman Vance Phillips.

Schepens said the regulations are an attempt to improve water quality statewide, as “every stream in Delaware” is impaired and many waterways are not safe for swimming or recreation. He said fewer nutrients equals an increase in healthy waters, which increases tourism and land value, among other benefits.

He explained that, since November of 2011, DNREC has held public workshops on the regulations and then a public hearing in May of this year. Written comments were accepted Oct. 1 to Oct. 30. There was another public hearing scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 15, and he said the record should be open for a minimum of 15 days after that for additional comment.

Rich Collins, head of the Positive Growth Alliance and recent challenger to incumbent Rep. John Atkins in the state’s 41st District, spoke at the end of the council meeting and said that, while he had no criticism for Schepens personally, for just doing his job, he said that, in the 10-minute presentation given to council, they had probably heard “1 percent of what’s in this thing. It’s very dense, with lots of cross-outs and line-throughs.”

He questioned the fact that the month before the election was the time people could make comments and told the council that he believes DNREC is “directly interfering with the land-use process you are supposed to control.”

Several of the more controversial points of the regulations, explained Schepens, might be the performance regulations for onsite wastewater treatment systems and the costs involved. He said homes within 1,000 feet of the Chesapeake Bay watershed would be affected and the standards would go from 45 milligram per liter of nitrogen to 20 milligram per liter of nitrogen and systems would be inspected twice a year, at a cost of $175 to $250, although homeowners could be their own service provider to cut costs.

Also, cesspools and seepage pits would be prohibited, and Schepens said there are loans available for people who would need to replace a system.

Homes in the Inland Bays watershed already have regulations established by the Pollution Control Strategy, and a map of homes additionally affected by the proposed new regulations, which would be in place statewide, is available online.

Phillips asked if Kent County didn’t have some issues with an overlay district and then said, “The Pollution Control Strategy ended up in court, as well, and didn’t that get overturned?”

Schepens acknowledged that the part of the PCS pertaining to buffers did get overturned.

Phillips then asked if Schepens expected that a working system would meet the new nitrogen performance standards and Schepens said he said some would, while Phillips said he felt “it would be probably impossible to meet those standards.”

Phillips then asked fellow council members if they would write a letter to DNREC, asking that affected property owners be informed of the public hearing. Councilwoman Joan Deaver said that her constituents wouldn’t want a letter, because they would worry about the cost of the regulations if they were affected, and she was against the County writing one.

“We do it as a courtesy,” said Councilman George Cole, referencing the letters the County itself sends to people who live within 200 feet of the property involved in a public hearing. “But this is the State’s issue — let them deal with it. Leave it up to them.”

Deaver then said she thought it was excessive for the County to request it, and the issue was dropped.

Collins said he would post the information about the public hearing, which was scheduled for Thursday evening, after Coastal Point press time, on his Web site at

The final draft of the proposed regulations is online at