- Is this a major overhaul of the Regulation?
This draft regulation constitutes the first phase of an in-depth reform of the Regulation. It aims to correct enforcement issues that can be resolved at this stage of the work.
Does the draft regulation provide for measures to facilitate procedures for upgrading septic systems that contaminate the environment?
Two provisions of the draft regulation aim to reduce the burden of proof of contamination that municipalities must establish in order to be able to require the upgrade of septic systems built before August 12, 19811 that contaminate the environment.
One provision aims to limit the burden of proof of contamination in the case of septic systems located in one of three sensitive areas defined by the draft regulation to ensure better protection of lakes and sources of drinking water. The only proof of contamination that will be required in these three sensitive areas will be to demonstrate that the filtering soil of the soil-based wastewater treatment system lacks the thickness prescribed by the draft regulation, which provides minimal processing of wastewater.
The other provision aims to now also require owners of an isolated dwelling built before August 12, 1981 to maintain their wastewater discharge, collection or disposal systems. Like all other owners, they will have to replace any part, component or piece of equipment that has become non-functional or shows signs of leakage.
What are the sensitive areas in which proof of contamination based on soil thickness must be provided to require an upgrade?
The draft regulation has defined three sensitive areas in
which it could be necessary to require proof of
contamination based on soil thickness to require upgrading:
- The 120 metre strip of land adjacent to the perimeter of a lake measured from the high water mark line;
- The virological protection area of groundwater catchment used as a drinking water supply and serving more than 20 persons for mainly residential or exclusively institutional purposes within the meaning of the Groundwater Catchment Regulation (Q-2, r.6);
- The protection area of works for the withdrawal of surface water used as a drinking water supply and serving more than 20 persons for mainly residential or exclusively institutional purposes, and corresponding to a 120 metre strip of land measured from the high-water mark line and at the following distances, depending on the location of the withdrawal site:
- 500 metres upstream from the withdrawal site and 10 metres downstream from the site, if it is located in a steady flow watercourse;
- One kilometre upstream from the withdrawal site and 20 meters downstream from the site, if it is situated in the St. Lawrence River, or one kilometre upstream and downstream from the withdrawal site, where river is under the reversibility of the current due to the tide.
- Why does the draft regulation propose to reduce the burden of proof of contamination based on the soil thickness available below soil-based wastewater treatment systems?
The dry soil available under works for purification by seepage through the soil is the filter medium that makes it possible to treat septic tank effluents. Its thickness is an indicator of the septic installation’s purification performance.
A septic system’s normal operations involve retaining and eliminating most pathogenic bacteria over 60 to 90 centimetres from the infiltration surface (EPA, 2002). The transition zone, where bacteria indicators decrease significantly in soil, is located at a vertical distance of 30 to 60 centimetres below the wastewater application surface (Ziebell et al., 1974). Soils create a tension-saturated zone above the water table by capillary action. This tension-saturated zone is roughly 12.5 centimetres for sand and can reach 40 centimetres for silt (Dubé and Barabé, 1991). This means that as the water table rises, and with it the capillary effect, the purifying element located at less than 30 centimetres from the groundwater table has less than 20 centimetres of unsaturated soil to effectively treat the water. Once bacteria from septic effluent systems reaches the groundwater, they can travel a distance of more than 30 metres, and viruses can travel up to 408 metres (EPA, 2002).
In addition, facilities that are over 30 years old do not provide favourable conditions for adequate retention of phosphorus and therefore have a high risk of exporting phosphorus to water bodies. Several factors influence the ability of soils to absorb phosphorus, including the nature of the soil, the thickness of dry soil through which wastewater can percolate, the age of the systems, groundwater levels and the distance to water bodies.
As a result, facilities with a soil thickness of less than 30 centimetres are a source of groundwater contamination
DUBÉ J.-P. and Y. BARABÉ (1991), Guide technique sur la conception des installations septiques communautaires (Petites agglomérations), revised in January 1991, SQAE and EAT Environnement Inc.
EPA (2002), Systems Manual, Onsite Wastewater Treatment, EPA/625/R-00/008, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development, February 2002.
Ziebel, W.A., D.H. Nero, J.F. Deininger and E. McCoy, 1975,
Use of Bacteria in Assessing Waste Treatment and Soil Disposal Systems, In:
Home Sewage Disposal, Proceedings of the National Symposium on Home Sewage Disposal, ASAE Proc-175, American Society of Agricultural Engineers, St. Joseph, MI. 1974. Pp. 58-63.
- Why weren’t the same soil thicknesses established as those required for systems built after the Regulation went into effect (August 12, 1981)?
The soil thickness was determined in consideration of the recognized vested rights regarding treatment systems installed before August 12, 1981 and the need, in order to require their replacement, to rely on a scientific consensus establishing that the systems concerned undeniably constitute a source of environmental contamination
- Why propose reducing the burden of proof of contamination based on soil thickness only in the three sensitive areas defined in the draft regulation?
The draft regulation limits this provision to three areas in order to concentrate upgrading efforts within the most sensitive sectors. These areas have been identified on the basis of issues related to the problem of blue-green algae and the protection of drinking water sources.
- How were the protection distances around works for the withdrawal of surface water and lakes determined?
The proposed protection distances around works for the withdrawal of surface water correspond to the immediate protection area provided for in the draft regulation respecting water withdrawals and water protection (RPEP). However, the width of the strip of land adjacent to the watercourse was increased and should now be 120 metres, since viruses found in septic tank effluents are likely to travel well beyond the 15 metre riparian strip. The 120 metre strip is the surface that is proposed in the RPEP for the intermediary protection area of surface water intakes.
The 120 metre strip has also been selected for establishing the sensitive area around lakes.
- Why does the draft regulation refer to the Groundwater Catchment Regulation (GCR) rather than the draft regulation respecting water withdrawals and water protection (RPEP)? Why doesn’t it contain the location standards proposed in the RPEP?
A draft regulation cannot refer to another draft regulation or bill that is not yet in force. The two regulations will be harmonized when they respectively take effect in order to ensure consistency in the terminology and regulatory requirements.
- Why don’t these provisions apply to isolated dwellings built after August 12, 1981?
These provisions do not apply to installations built after August 12, 1981 because the owners are already required to maintain their treatment systems and municipalities are not required to establish proof of nuisance or contamination to make them comply. If the municipality establishes proof that the septic system violates a Regulation standard that was in force at the time the isolated dwelling or an extra bedroom was built, or when changes were made to the septic systems, it can require that the installation be upgraded.
- Concerning sensitive areas, when can a municipality require that the owner of an isolated dwelling built before August 12, 1981 make his system compliant under the new provisions of the draft regulation?
The draft regulation provides that the mandatory compliance requirement would take effect two years after the Regulation goes into force. In the meantime, the municipality may inform owners that their installations are not compliant with the Regulation, but it cannot force them to comply before that date.
- Why introduce a requirement for the owner to mandate a member of a professional order competent in the field to inspect the work to certify that it is compliant?
For the moment, the Regulation provides no means of control to ensure that the system’s installation was carried out in accordance with the permit issued by the municipality. Moreover, even today, systems are built that deviate from one or more of the Regulation standards. This can prove problematic, since a non-compliant septic system could affect public health, create nuisances in the neighbourhood or contaminate the environment. Property values might also drop when septic systems affect the quality of the environment (lake with algae, groundwater contamination, presence of wastewater on the surface, odour problems, etc.).
Therefore, the purpose of the requirement is to ensure that all new installations are subject to a compliance inspection conducted by a qualified professional in the field and that a certificate of compliance is issued, if applicable. Inspection of this nature requires training and skills that are specific to this field as well as professional judgment, which makes the signer of the certificate liable.
In addition, the owners will be able to provide proof of compliance to future buyers when selling their property.
- Can the municipality carry out the inspection to produce the certificate confirming that the work is in compliance as required by the draft regulation?
The draft regulation provides that a municipality can perform compliance inspections as required in the draft regulation if it designates or mandates a member of a professional order who is competent in the field and if it provides the owner with a copy of the certificate produced by the professional within 30 days following the work’s completion.
- Why does the draft regulation change the title to “Regulation Respecting ‘Domestic’ Waste Water Disposal Systems for Isolated Dwellings”?
The draft proposes to introduce a definition of “domestic wastewater” into the Regulation in order to expand the definition of “wastewater.” In so doing, the draft regulation intends to include all types of wastewater that can be produced by a building other than a single family or multi-family dwelling. These changes are being suggested so that the Regulation will cover domestic wastewater from buildings that also discharge wastewater of a different nature (such as industrial or agri-food process water, wastewater from livestock buildings, hairdressers, garages with a mechanical workshop, etc.).
Only buildings with a total daily flow of domestic wastewater of no more than 3,240 litres
are affected by this change. However, non-domestic
wastewater must be sent to a device authorized beforehand by
the MDDELCC in accordance with the Environment Quality Act.
- Why does the draft regulation specify that location standards for above-ground works be measured from the permeable end of the earth backfill that surrounds them?
The draft regulation aims to clarify the reference point from which the distances shown in the table in section 7.2 of the Regulation must be measured in instances where the earth backfill of soil absorption systems, standard sand-filter-beds and other soil-based wastewater treatment systems is partially or completely above ground. According to the MDDELCC, location standards must be measured from the ends of the permeable earth backfill since the specifications for the earth backfill are included in the construction standards of treatment systems. Consequently, the earth backfill must be considered as an integral part of these works.
Thinking that location standards can be measured from the ends of the wastewater application surface that is buried in the ground, rather than from the boundaries of the earth backfill, can lead to installing an earth backfill that encroaches on the banks of a lake or other watercourse. This would be contrary to the Protection Policy for Lakeshores, Riverbanks, Littoral Zones and Floodplains adopted by the government. It can also result in a portion of the earth backfill being laid out too close to a property line or partially encroaching on a neighbouring property.
- Why has a framework for the discharge of wastewater from drinking water treatment devices (DWTDs) been introduced?
The draft regulation aims to correct problems stemming from the fact that several manufacturers of NQ 3680-910 certified treatment systems prohibit discharges from drinking water treatment devices (DWTDs) from entering their treatment systems since the wastewater can affect their system’s purification performance. Consequently, the owners affected cannot install drinking water treatment devices, even though in some cases such devices are required for heath reasons or to protect the dwelling’s household appliances.
The draft regulation therefore aims to introduce additional wastewater treatment options to reconcile public health and environmental protection objectives with manufacturers’ recommendations. Treatment devices that receive wastewater must nonetheless be recommended, designed and certified by an engineer who is a member of the Order of Engineers of Québec.
- Why does the draft regulation provide for prohibiting the construction of a leaching field beneath a standard sand-filter bed?
A standard sand-filter bed is a wastewater treatment work built with borrowed sand that, unlike above-ground sand-filter beds, produces an effluent. The Regulation requires that the effluent be discharged into a leaching field to complete the purification of the wastewater and allow its seepage into the soil or that the effluent be discharged at the surface if it is not possible to build a leaching field. The Regulation also provides for the option of building a leaching field next to or beneath a standard sand-filter bed.
When a standard sand-filter bed built above a leaching field is above ground it more or less constitutes an above-ground sand-filter bed. As such, it is already subject to building standards set out in the Regulation. However, the standards governing the construction of standard sand-filter beds above leaching fields are not sufficiently detailed to prevent wastewater resurgence risks. The draft regulation therefore proposes removing the option of constructing a leaching field beneath a standard sand-filter bed since the standards that apply to above-ground sand-filter beds provide an adequate framework for this type of work.