U.S. Water News Online
FARMINGTON, N.M. -- Septic tanks are a big source of
groundwater contamination in New Mexico, state Environment Secretary
Ron Curry said.
Many regulations aimed at changing that and approved by the state
in April will take effect next month.
The regulations revise wastewater treatment standards and provide
a mechanism to bring unpermitted systems, which are estimated to be
about half the 220,000 septic tanks in the state, into oversight.
During a public meeting on the issue here, Curry said the matter
hadn't been tackled by the state in more than 20 years.
Don Becker of the San Juan County Homebuilders Association asked
Curry for more time to review and learn about the regulations.
"This rule is coming into effect way too fast for the people of
San Juan County," Becker said. "You don't see people dying here. You
don't see waste in the river."
Curry, however, had numbers to back up groundwater problems in San
He noted that the state has spent more than $450,000 for two
projects designed to clean up the San Juan and Animas rivers.
The programs, he said, will correct septic system problems in
Flora Vista and improve septic tank operations in Farmington and
Bloomfield, construct wetlands to reduce sediment, nutrient and
bacteria loading, remediate septic systems in rural areas and
remediate non-septic system pollution sources.
"You don't have a lot of problems, but you have problems," Curry
Some of the problems with these systems include improper
installation and seeping sewage.
"You don't want to have a situation where you're drinking your
neighbor's liquid waste in your well water," Curry warned.
Tom Higley, a home builder, said he has spent the last 15 years
trying to construct affordable homes, which are becoming scarce in
San Juan County.
"You cannot build a home for less than $150,000," Higley said,
adding that he believes the new septic tank codes will greatly
increase the construction costs.
Rewriting the regulations began in March 2003. Since that time,
there have been educational meetings held across the state.
The changes include requirements that all undeveloped lots be at
least three-quarters of an acre for a septic tank and that advanced
treatment units be required on small lots.
Beginning July 1, 2007, anyone installing a septic system must be
certified. There will be a homeowner certification program for those
wishing to install their own systems.
Traditional septic tanks -- buried tanks in which solids settle
and from which liquids filter into a leach field -- are suitable to
dispose of human waste in many rural areas where lot sizes are large
enough for contaminants to be filtered and diluted.
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