PROVIDENCE – In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the Department of Environmental Management is offering guidance to property owners who need to repair or replace onsite wastewater treatment systems (OWTS) that are located in close proximity to eroding shorelines. In certain areas of the south shore, Sandy caused coastal erosion which may have undermined structures and exposed components of these systems. OWTS repair in these highly vulnerable Critical Erosion Areas, as designated by the RI Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), typically requires a permit from DEM and an assent from CRMC.
DEM regulations provide the Department with discretion in approving applications for repair on lots with limiting conditions. Each application is reviewed on a case-by-case basis to ensure the design meets the requirements of the regulations to the greatest extent possible and that environmental and public health risks are minimized. Because of the unique circumstances posed by coastal erosion, DEM has developed a guidance document in conjunction with CRMC to address OWTS repairs in the CRMC-designated Critical Erosion Areas. The repair guidance is applicable to residential and commercial facilities located along shorelines subject to coastal erosion.
OWTS repair applications to place system components within 100 feet of the actively eroding edge of the coastal feature in Critical Erosion Areas should be submitted to DEM and CRMC concurrently. Both agencies will undertake joint application reviews. OWTS designers are encouraged to contact DEM or CRMC prior to submitting repair applications for further guidance on special problems that may arise during design.
Some OWTS systems have components that are above the ground surface that may have been damaged by flooding. These include sand filters and electrical pump panels. These systems are generally located in low-lying areas within a few hundred feet of the shoreline. Damage may not be obvious. DEM advises that property owners have their certified maintenance providers check these systems to ensure they are intact and fully operational. Minor repairs to surface components as a result of Sandy may be made without application to DEM provided that DEM is notified.
Further details are provided in the guidance document on DEM's website at http://www.dem.ri.gov/sandy.htm. DEM's Rules and Regulations Establishing Minimum Standards Relating to Location, Design, Construction, and Maintenance of Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems are available online at http://www.dem.ri.gov/pubs/regs/regs/water/owts12.pdf.
For more information, call Jonathan Zwarg in DEM's Office of Water Resources at 222-4700 ext. 7205.