Issue: New EPA rules could make closing floor bay drains and septic systems part of your future
If you don't use a sanitary sewer or pump-and-haul service for disposing of your maintenance-shop waste, you could be in for some major changes.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to put out a rule this October that will shut down the floor-bay drains found in most maintenance facilities.
These drains typically connect to either a septic system, sump, or drywell (known as UIC, for underground injection control well) for discharge. Since the waste may contain chemicals that are potentially hazardous to groundwater, EPA is finalizing a rule banning wells that receive waste from motor vehicle maintenance areas.
The regulated waste includes stormwater runoff from trucks, oil and grease drippings, and water that comes from washing shop floors. Although the proposed rule only affects wells in certain groundwater-sensitive areas of each state, EPA is seeking to broaden the rule to make it a nationwide ban. In this effort, the agency has the support of a leading council of groundwater experts.
The new federal policy will require fleets to either find other discharge options, or cease the industrial process that creates the discharge in the first place. If the floor-bay drain leads to a septic tank and leachfield that services the facility, that septic system will be shut down.
EPA may allow a "motor vehicle waste well" to be converted back to a septic system that is used for lavatory waste only. This is likely to be a lengthy and costly process, however, requiring soil and groundwater testing, as well as any necessary remediation, along with system clean-out and physical closure of the bay drains. Consequently, the best option for most facilities will be to connect to sanitary sewer service if possible.
EPA has proposed two options to avoid having your bay drains and septic system closed, both of them extremely costly. The first is a permit waiver that includes constant sampling of groundwater and discharge while meeting a host of water quality standards.
The second option is to physically separate one of the bays from all chemicals and maintenance activities. The area could instead be used as a place to bring in wet or snow-covered trucks for drying off before moving them to the maintenance bay. UIC wells would have to be tested, remediated, closed, and reopened in conjunction with creation of this "melting bay."
The process of closing these wells could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per facility. It might include soil and groundwater testing; cleanup of well contamination; connection to the sewer; contracting pump-and-haul services; and storage tank installation. Not to mention the costs associated with the disruption of normal maintenance activities.
By May 2003 states must decide which areas are covered by the ban, get EPA approval, and make the information public. However, some states have already begun the process. Once EPA approves a state's plan, the ban takes effect immediately in that state. Fleets then have 90 days to close their wells.
It's important for fleets to realize that they won't be notified directly when the ban for their state is issued. All information will be disseminated through the news media.
EPA is also planning to close wells that receive stormwater runoff - unless they receive only "insignificant" amounts of waste. The agency is preparing guidelines to help fleets determine whether or not their stormwater discharge wells must be shut.
Wells that receive wastewater from vehicle washing operations have not escaped EPA's regulatory eye either. The rule would ban wells that receive any waste from washbays equipped for undercarriage or engine washing.
Additional, stricter rules on stormwater and wash-wastewater wells that will further narrow the focus of this rule are expected to be issued in the future.