Your leaky septic system could soon cost you hefty fines or even land you in jail.
Feeling pressure from the state and federal government to adhere to provisions of the Clean Water Act, Beaufort County is working to beef up its stormwater regulations to keep pollutants out of local rivers and marshes.
With the proposed regulation changes come new penalties — fines of up to $500 per day or 30 days in jail — for polluters who don’t fix a failing septic systems or take proper precautions to limit stormwater runoff during construction projects.
The proposed rules would also mean inspections take more time and continue even after a development is complete.
As the local population has grown in recent years, the federal government has reclassified the portions of the county as urbanized areas. The results of the 2010 census triggered the need for the county to seek a Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems — commonly known as MS4 — permit.
The permit — issued late last year — requires the county to oversee runoff control and monitoring, public outreach initiatives, and reporting of water testing results to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.
The new regulations — which will be introduced to the full Beaufort County Council later this month — will help ensure that runoff generated after the completion of a construction project doesn’t exceed per-construction levels, county officials say.
“Basically, we don’t want new development to negatively impact the environment,” county stormwater manager Eric Larson said earlier this week.
While the proposed penalties can be harsh, the purpose is not to punish violators unjustly, he said.
The county will provide “several opportunities for (polluters) to come into compliance voluntarily through education and written notices before we ever levy a fine or stop work on a project,” Larson said.
There is an overwhelming workload this is creating.
Beaufort County stormwater manager Eric Larson
With new regulations come new responsibilities for the regulator —who, in this case, is the county.
Inspecting and enforcing stricter stormwater rules “adds a layer of bureaucracy,” County Councilman Brian Flewelling said.
“There is an overwhelming workload this is creating,” he said.
The MS4 requirements could double the time it takes to inspect a construction site, and stormwater inspection will continue even after a development is complete, Larson said.
But Larson’s staff is working with other county departments to help spread the weight of that workload.
County building inspectors “will be our first line of defense and be our eyes and ears in the field,” he said. “...If they see something that doesn’t look right when they are on a (construction) site, they will notify (the stormwater department) to prompt a special inspection.”
“We will utilize existing resources to the greatest extent possible,” but the stormwater department will still likely need to hire more employees, Larson said.
In addition to giving the county the authority to go after developers or property owners who pollute local waterways, the proposed regulations would target irresponsible business owners.
“We have the ability to suspend discharge (of pollutants) into our system if we can’t get compliance from a (business) owner,” Larson said. “If we have a gas station or a full-service mechanic shop that is dumping used oil down a stormdrain and we are unable to stop it … we can plug up (their drains) and stop them.”
County administrator Gary Kubic said an instance such as plugging a drain is “government’s attempt to make sure we protect the environment, but the responsibility and charge will fall to the property owner,” even if that means placing a lien on the property.
While the proposed regulations are more aggressive than current rules, they will not prohibit from washing your car in your driveway.
“That would be un-American,” Flewelling joked.