Keuka Watershed Improvment Cooperative
Keuka Watershed Improvement Cooperative - A KWIC History
The KWIC or Keuka Watershed Improvement Cooperative was formed by inter-municipal agreement in 1993 after more than a decade of discussion and debate by the eight Keuka Lake towns and villages to ensure uniform regulations and enforcement of wastewater systems to protect the purity of the lake. The KWIC agreement is widely considered (statewide and nationally) to be a model of cooperation and pro-active wastewater management.
Why did the municipalities form the KWIC? The municipalities formed the KWIC because they recognized that a major responsibility of the towns and villages is the protection of clean water, both groundwater and lake water. Local tourism generates nearly $50 million dollars a year, and real property tax base represents an estimated $1 billion along the lake (up to 70% of all assessed value in many towns). Tourism and tax base depend on a clean and healthy lake, and since septic systems are a primary potential source of contamination, they must be managed properly. The municipalities also recognized that there was no uniformity in regulations and enforcement when the previous watershed organization known as the Keuka Lake Perimeter Committee became dysfunctional in the early 1980's after several towns pulled out of the agreement.
In the early 1990's, each municipality formed local study committees and recommended a "watershed-wide" approach to address septic systems. The common themes of agreement were:
Pollution does not abide by political boundaries: if one town pollutes, all suffer!
Therefore, a watershed approach is needed:
- Uniform regulations and enforcement
- Local control, maintaining "home-rule" power
- Control costs
Supervisors, mayors, town board members, citizens and watershed inspectors came together with the KLA and representatives from county agencies, New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and Cornell University faculty and staff, to formulate a plan. The first step was to develop and pass local uniform septic system regulations. After nearly a year and 7 drafts, a model wastewater law was passed in each town and village. The law provides local authority for both new and replacement construction of septic systems, as well as the Zone 1 and Real Property Transfer Inspection Program. It defines required permits as well as penalties should a violation occur. The law uses the DOH/Building Code known as Part 75a as the basis for design and construction of wastewater systems. It is important to note that this state code applies to the construction of all septic systems and is not dependent on the existence of KWIC or the passage of local laws by towns or villages. The purpose of the local codes is to enhance the management of septic systems (inspection program) and ensure that Part 75a is followed uniformly in each town.
The next step was the formulation of the "Uniform Enforcement" piece of the program. All the municipalities agreed that in order to have uniform enforcement of the local laws across the watershed, a Watershed Manager would need to be hired to oversee the program and provide technical expertise on the designs and approvals of systems. The municipalities agreed that this person would need expert knowledge in engineering, soils, regulatory procedures, program management and municipal affairs. The municipalities spent many months defining the roles and responsibilities of the Manager and the Watershed Inspectors so that each had a defined role per the wastewater law. It was agreed that the Inspector's role was to conduct the inspections per the Zone 1 complaint and property transfer/refinancing sections of the law and the Watershed Manager was responsible for designs and approvals of new and replacement systems. This includes the acquisition and use of a local waiver or engineered plans for difficult sites. This allows the Watershed Manager to design certain engineered systems locally and to pass the savings on to homeowners (perhaps $20,000 per year in the watershed).
In order to hire a Manager and provide the municipal input/management required, the towns and villages created the inter-municipal agreement that created the formation of the KWIC. Members of the KWIC are elected supervisors and mayors of each town; budgets are controlled by the local boards. Each member town or village pays an equal share of the annual budget. The agreement has a "rolling sunset" provision that automatically continues each year for a three-year period. Any member municipality may request in writing a review and reconfirmation of the agreement at anytime. Such requests must include a description of any problem or complaint. The KWIC shall take prompt action to review or correct any such problems or complaints.
Has anything changed since the KWIC was adopted? No, only minor policies and procedures. The local laws, Part 75a, and the KWIC agreement are unchanged. Some observations relative to concerns raised about KWIC and the wastewater law include:
- New construction of septic systems shall comply with Appendix 75a, since this is a state law (with or without KWIC)
- Currently, KWIC municipalities have a uniform local law requiring replacement septic systems to comply with Appendix 75a if possible. Should KWIC be dissolved, local laws would still require systems to comply with 75a unless a town were to change their local law. Even if a town decided to rescind their local law, they would still have to follow 75a and replacement septic systems in 75a "should" be built according to these standards.
- Soils in most of the towns are limiting and require alternate designs. These difficult site and soil conditions will remain, with or without KWIC.
- Lot sizes along the lake in particular are very small and limiting when it comes to septic system options. KWIC does not have any control over the lot sizes for onsite wastewater treatment systems.
- KWIC's involvement with the municipalities is through the inter-municipal agreement that provides expertise in onsite wastewater treatment planning and review, training for the inspectors, and supervision of inspectors and a program for uniform compliance. Procedures have been developed with the cooperation of the Manager and the Inspectors approved by the Board of Directors.
- The Zone 1 inspections are a product of the local wastewater management regulations.
- KWIC has local waivers from the NYSDOH that exist via the Watershed Manager's expertise. If a Manager changes, the waivers are suspended until NYSDOH is confident that the new Manager has adequate expertise.