CHINA — Planning Board members continue to receive both criticism and praise for their efforts to revise the town’s shoreland septic system compliance program.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Frederic Hayden, the resident who started the petition drive to repeal the entire program, told board members the new version is still far too extensive.

But Jim Hart, director of water quality for the Kennebec Water District, encouraged the board to present what he considers an improved and simplified program to voters in June.

With only three members present Tuesday, the Planning Board took no further action on the draft program. Board members intend to have a document ready for the June local ballot, to give voters an alternative to repealing the septic system compliance program.

Both the current and the proposed programs require inspections of septic systems within 250 feet of lakes, including China Lake, if the system was installed before 1998 or if the property-owner cannot provide complete documentation for a 1998 or newer system. The west basin of China Lake provides water for the water district; the east basin is ringed by camps and houses.

“I think a neighbor would like to know his neighbor’s system is functioning properly when they’re swimming in the lake,” Hart said.

The program that China voters approved in 2009 requires an inspection of every pre-1998 undocumented system around a lake by the end of 2014. Those that are working properly are to be re-inspected at four-year intervals.

The draft the Planning Board is working on eliminates the re-inspection requirement for fully documented systems installed after July 31, 1974, and stretches it out for other systems.

Hayden believes an inspection program, if necessary at all, should apply only to systems installed before 1974, when the first regulations took effect, and within 100 feet of a lake.

He and resident Al Althenn challenged the premise that septic systems contribute to the decline in lake water quality in China Lake. Althenn has argued for years that the real problem with the lake is the state decision 35 years ago to raise the water level, thus flooding the shoreland wetlands that ought to be filtering out pollutants and the nitrates and phosphorus that cause algae blooms.

Hart cited a state study that found septic systems make a 5 percent contribution to China Lake’s problems. Althenn said the study was based on guesswork and assumptions.

Other audience members offered suggestions for either revising the ordinance or developing alternative ways to detect malfunctioning septic systems. Several favored Althenn’s suggestion of dye tests — putting dye into a toilet, or perhaps into the septic tank, and seeing whether it appeared in the lake.

State soils scientist David Rocque said dye tests work if effluent is being discharged directly into the water body or through rocks. The test does not work if the dyed water runs through soil, he said.

Code Enforcement Officer Scott Pierz said he has never seen a straight-pipe discharge into China Lake. Residents claim there are some, he said, but no one has been able to show him one.

The board also talked briefly about another proposed regulatory change, an amended ordinance to govern home occupations in China. That, too, was intended to go on a June ballot, but acting board Chairman Milton Dudley said he didn’t think it would be ready in time.

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