DUANESBURG — Residents who live near Duane Lake may soon have to have their septic systems checked before selling their home.
The Legislature is considering an ordinance that would require anyone seeking to transfer ownership of their residence in the Duane Lake Zoning District to first have their septic systems inspected by a “licensed or qualified inspector” to ensure that the systems are in good working order local, state and federal regulations comply with regulations.
If approved, Duanesburg would be the last local community to enact laws protecting drinking water from a freshwater body.
The legislation is being pushed by the Duane Lake Association, a nonprofit organization that works to protect the 3/4-mile-long lake, which is lined with single-family homes and is a source of drinking water for area residents.
But the lake has long been threatened by the presence of nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen and is classified as “eutrophic” by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Eutrophication can lead to the overgrowth of aquatic plants and algae, which then consume oxygen and threaten to wipe out native species. The process can also lead to the formation of harmful algae blooms, which can be toxic and further degrade water quality.
Duane Lake is currently classified as a “impaired” body of water by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and is considered extremely susceptible to blooms.
A lake management plan released last year by the Duane Lake Association indicates that recent testing confirmed the presence of coliform bacteria, suggesting fecal contamination.
“In short, the waters of Duane Lake are in trouble and the problems must be addressed,” the plan states.
The Duane Lake Association did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.
However, under the proposed legislation, regular septic tank inspections would ensure that systems that do not meet standards are removed from service – a step that would prevent further contamination of the lake.
There have been previous attempts to keep waste out of Duane Lake by expanding the city’s sewage service to the area. However, these plans were rejected by local residents on grounds of cost, leaving few options for the future.
“With this in mind, one way to ensure effective protection of the waters of Duane Lake is to periodically inspect on-site private wastewater treatment plants to cease operations of these systems and prevent contamination of Duane Lake,” the proposed legislation states.
Under the proposal, properties in the Duane Lake Zoning District that “contain a habitable structure” would be subject to a septic inspection by an inspector trained by the New York Onside Wastewater Treatment Training Network.
An inspection report would then need to be submitted to the city’s building inspector within 10 days. Under the proposed legislation, if a system fails inspection, property owners would have 30 days to repair or replace the system.
The two-page bill does not describe what would cause a wastewater system to fail an inspection. The law also does not specify a time frame for when an inspection must take place before a property is transferred.
However, the proposal states that failure to repair a defective sewer system within 30 days would result in the loss of a certificate of occupancy until the system is repaired or replaced.
The city’s building inspector has the authority to “appropriately extend” the 30-day period if contractors or materials are unavailable and there are weather-related incidents.
A public hearing on the proposed law was held last week, where residents expressed a variety of opinions, including many who supported the idea. Others called for adjustments to the proposal, including an extension of the 30-day deadline property owners have to address the problems.
Some criticized the proposal as government overreach and said the decision to have a private sewage treatment plant inspected should be made between the homeowner selling their property and the person wanting to make the purchase.
Lawmakers ultimately decided to extend the public hearing to gather additional input. Changes to the proposal are also expected in the coming weeks.
Broken sewage systems around drinking water sources have become a common topic of discussion as droughts become more common and concerns about drinking water contamination continue to grow.
The issue has gained traction in recent years in the Lake George region, where several municipalities, including Queensbury and Bolton, passed laws transferring septic tank inspections in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
Lake George is widely considered one of the most pristine sources of drinking water in the United States, but several confirmed harmful algae blooms occurred at the lake about two years ago, raising concerns among environmentalists who suggested that waste was entering the lake through old, faulty septic systems as a malefactor.
Earlier this year, the Lake George Park Commission passed regulations requiring all property owners in the Lake George Basin to have their septic systems pumped at least every 10 years. Those who live within 500 feet of the lake or 100 feet of a regulated stream must have the systems pumped and inspected every five years.
The next Duanesburg City Council meeting will be November 9th.