Illegal Cesspools Targeted in RI
March 11, 2014
ecoRI.org: All cesspools within 200’ of the Ocean State shoreline have been illegal for 2 months. The Rhode Island Cesspool Act of 2007 gave homeowners until January 1 of this year  to remove them.
He said the goal of the law is not to punish people, but to improve wastewater management, especially in areas vulnerable to public health and environmental risks.
About 40% of Rhode Islanders get their drinking water from groundwater sources or from small local reservoirs, and obsolete cesspools are a major source of pollution to these water supplies. Rhode Island banned cesspools in new construction in 1968, but there are an estimated 25,000 or so still actively in use, including nearly a thousand in high-risk areas, such as on the coast.
Using geographic information systems (GIS) mapping and combing through septic system permits and sewer connection documents, the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) was able to identify 945 cesspools operating within 200 feet of the coast, a public well or public drinking-water supply, such as the Kickemuit Reservoir in Bristol County, Wallum Lake in Burrillville and Easton Pond in Newport.
Of the 945 in violation, 504 of the properties have replaced their cesspools with an onsite wastewater treatment system — likely a septic system — or have connected to public sewer, according to Jon Zwarg, a senior environmental scientist with DEM. Of the remaining properties, more than 300 are in the permitting pipeline to be replaced. They technically are illegal at the moment, but will be replaced when the weather improves and the ground warms.
The remaining 100 or so properties are in violation, for one of three reasons: property owners who are simply ignoring or willing to fight state law; summer residents who haven’t yet received any of the three DEM notification letters; or they are homeowners living on a fixed income who are afraid they will lose their house if they are made to upgrade from a cesspool. Zwarg said no one will lose their home because of this law. He said the goal of the law is not to punish people, but to improve wastewater management, especially in areas vulnerable to public health and environmental risks.