Construction of cesspools has been prohibited in Rhode Island since 1968. It took until 2015, but the state finally is poised to phase them out for good.
Last week, the House joined the Senate in approving legislation (H5668A and S0396A, respectively) that would provide for the eventual removal of all cesspools in the state. The chambers will swap bills, which are expected to be approved this week, and send the legislation to Gov. Gina Raimondo, who is expected to sign it into law.
The Rhode Island Cesspool Act of 2007 already requires the removal of cesspools within 200 feet of coastal waters, surface waters and drinking water supplies. The legislation would expand that to require any cesspool in the state to be replaced within one year of the sale or transfer of the property. The state Department of Environmental Management estimates there are 25,000 cesspools-all which are more than 45 years old-in the stare.
This is one of the last major steps in the comprehensive approach to water pollution that the state and individual municipalities have spent a lot of time, effort and money to address.
Cesspools have been linked to swimming bans at the ocean beaches, ponds, and lakes throughout the state. They are a threat to the water quality and ecological heath of aquifers, coastal ponds, rivers, and the bays, according to environmental officials who have pushed for the expansion of the phaseout act.
Groundwater adjacent cesspools contain up to 77,000 ties the amount of fecal material as ground water adjacent conventional septic systems, according to Save the Bay, a nonprofit organization that works to protect and improve Narragansett Bay. That’s because a cesspool, which basically is a hole in the ground, does not provide for treatment of sewage.
The bill would require replacement of individual sewage disposal systems, or cesspools, with onsite wastewater treatment systems, or septic systems, within 12 months of the date of sale or transfer of the property.
Importantly, the legislation also provides for the connection o properties serviced by the cesspools to available sewer lines and identifies sources of funding for both sewer tie-ins and installation of new septic systems.
The legislation would take effect on Jan. 1, 2016, providing time for a public awareness campaign and for all cities and towns o update their municipal wastewater plans. There is no reason it should not be swiftly approved and signed into law.
We applaud the lawmakers who submitted the bills, Rep. Terresa Tanzi, D-South Kingstown, and Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski, D-South Kingstown, and environmental advocates who have worked so hard for the past few years to complete the cesspool phase out.
As Save the Bay put it in an email on Friday announcing that the legislation passed the House: “This is a great victory for Narragansett Bay and all local waters.”
-The Newport Daily News