Regulation falls between cracks
Denitrification systems can be used to remove the nitrates from septic systems, a potential source of groundwater contamination, but once installed, Douglas County and state officials are at odds as to who is responsible for them.
Amy Roukie, administrative services officer for the Nevada State Health Division, said these systems should be regulated by Douglas County.
“Any problems with commercial systems would be addressed by the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection,” she said. “But if you’re talking about maintaining nitrate removal systems, the responsibility falls to the Douglas County Building Department.”
Issues arose in recent months concerning these systems, approved by the county for Jobs Peak Estates where porous soils and a high water table could result in nitrates leaching into the ground and contaminating groundwater.
Joe Pollock, public health engineer for the Nevada State Health Division, said the county approved these denitrification systems. They can’t pick and choose whether they will be responsible for their regulation.
“If the county wants to have a denitrification program, they will have to follow up,” he said. “If they don’t want to regulate them, those systems aren’t a viable option. Douglas County may have to find some other technology to remedy the problem.”
In his argument, County Manager Dan Holler quoted Nevada Law. Responsibility for regulation of these systems falls to the State Board of Health unless “a district board of health has adopted regulations to control the use of an individual system for disposal of sewage.”
“Since Douglas County has no board of health, the responsibility for denitrification systems falls to the state,” Holler said.
Roukie said the Bureau of Health Protection Services role is limited to permits and inspections of the installation of septic systems. They also respond if there’s a complaint related to sewage or discoloration in the drinking water.
“If a property is involved in a sale we will inspect the system for a small charge,” she said. “But we don’t reinspect.”
Holler quoted Nevada law when he said nitrate removal units required by the “administrative authority” are the responsibility of that authority. In the case of Douglas County, that would be the authority of the state.
Commercial systems are handled by the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, Roukie said.
The Nevada Department of Environmental Protection also deals with the number of septic systems allowed in a designated area, not the nitrate levels. If that number is exceeded, they will require either denitrifying systems or a municipal sewer system, Pollock said.
“Once that determination is made for any given subdivision, Douglas County adopts that requirement,” he said.
Susie Vasquez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 782-5121, ext. 211.