posted by monona alderman Doug wood on mononadoug.blogspot.com
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 09, 2008
The Cap Times ran a pretty good story: RETHINKING THE COMMODE
I'm told that NBC's story was somewhat juvenile on-air:
Here is a detailed explanation of the decision from ZBA Chair Chad Speight:
The Monona Zoning Board of Appeals ruled tonight, 3-1, to overturn the interpretation of the building inspector, hereby asserting the right of Monona residents to install composting toilets, in compliance with the Monona Plumbing Code and the Wisconsin Sanitation Codes. Composting toilets are allowed and regulated in WI Chapter Comm. 91, Sanitation. “This chapter establishes minimum standards and criteria for the design, installation, and maintenance of sanitation systems and devices which are alternatives to water-carried waste plumbing fixtures and drain systems so that these sanitation systems are safe and will safeguard public health and the waters of the state.” While the state code clearly allows and regulates composting toilets, the city also has the right to impose more restrictive codes. The particular issue before the ZBA tonight was to determine if the Monona Plumbing Code prohibits the installation and use of a composting toilet.
Previously, the building inspector had denied an application for installation of a composting toilet, citing Section 15-1-109(d) of the Monona Plumbing Code, which prohibits use of any “outdoor toilet…,cesspool, septic tank, or other contrivance located thereon for collecting and disposing of sewage” The applicant, who was appealing this decision, argued that the composting toilet does not dispose of sewage, but that it “converts by bacterial digestion non-liquid-carried human wastes or organic kitchen wastes, or both, into humus” (Wis Comm. 91.03 (2)). More importantly, and persuasive to the ZBA, the applicant argued that the Monona Plumbing Code does not apply to the composting toilet, since the entire definitions section of the plumbing code ((Sec 15-1-100) talks about the water supply and drainage systems; and the composting toilet is connected to neither system, by design. Thus, the prohibitions in the Monona Plumbing Code were intended to prohibit water-carried waste systems which did not connect to the municipal sewer.
As the chairperson, I explained that I had come to the meeting prepared to uphold the inspector’s decision, and to deny the appeal, because I had agreed that the Monona Plumbing Code seemed to prohibit any “contrivance” that was not connected to the municipal sewage system. Everyone on the board agreed that the Monona Code reflected sentiment from an earlier era when septic systems and outhouses were being replaced by our modern plumbing system. There was no obvious intent in Section 15-1-109 to outlaw composting toilets; but it seemed that the ordinance would need to be changed or updated. However, we also understood that Wisconsin State Codes are always applicable, unless specifically enhanced or restricted by local ordinances. Once the applicant showed that the local plumbing code is focused entirely on water-carried waste systems, then the composting toilet could not be reasonably included or excluded in a section dedicated to regulating water-carried waste. So the applicant will be allowed to install the composting toilet, which is regulated under state code, and will also be monitored by Dane County after proper permits are applied for.
The Monona Council is still free to impose more restrictive codes on composting toilets, or to clarify the matter in the local plumbing code. I had planned to propose adoption of an ordinance which allows composting toilets, consistent with the standards that have been established by the State of Wisconsin. I will still do this, in part because composting toilets are a great example of the change we need. The recent flooding in Monona caused sewage back-ups into basements, and thousands of gallons of raw sewage were dumped into Lake Monona. If many people used composting toilets regularly, then discharges of raw sewage into Lake Monona would never happen. We all benefit by reducing waste, conserving fresh water, and improving our lake water quality. And just like the sewage system, which has enormous costs and negative consequences, the garbage and yard wastes that we put out to the curb create enormous costs to the taxpayer, with other negative consequences that get passed on to future generations. Reducing wastes, and finding ways to safely turn waste into fertilizer at the source, are important goals that help to make our community more sustainable.
Alderman Chad Speight