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News Release

RI Department of Environmental Management

235 Promenade St., Providence, RI 02908

(401) 222-2771 TDD/(401) 222-4462

For Release: October 1, 1998

Contact: Bob Ballou 222-4700 ext. 4420

Stephanie Powell 222-4700 ext. 4418


PROVIDENCE -More than 130 new licenses have just been issued by the Department of Environmental Management to professionals engaged in septic system design under regulations that are intended to streamline the permitting and installation of septic systems.

The licenses, which are effective October 1, are the first to be granted under the new program that, when fully implemented, will significantly change and improve the procedures used to regulate septic system design and installation.

"This is a positive response to a lengthy and time-consuming permitting process, and another step in continually improving our service to Rhode Island citizens and heightening environmental protection," Governor Lincoln Almond said. "Licensing is a very positive step in placing responsibility for the adequate design, installation, and inspection of septic systems clearly on designers where it belongs, and freeing DEM staff to concentrate on difficult lot conditions and the repairs of older septic systems."

In 1995, a task force initiated by Governor Almond recommended major reforms in DEM's permitting processes. A key recommendation of that task force was an ISDS licensing program. Legislation was approved in 1996 by the General Assembly.

"Since then, many people and groups, including builders, land surveyors, engineers, and environmental groups, have provided substantial input in streamlining the septic system permitting system," DEM Director Andy McLeod said. "It has been a truly collaborative effort."


The regulations, adopted last year, require that septic system designers and soil evaluators be licensed by DEM, increasing the responsibility of the private sector for ensuring that septic systems are properly designed and installed. Licensing becomes mandatory on October 1, 1999, allowing a year of transition, and providing individuals with several opportunities to take and pass a licensing exam. After that time it will be necessary to have a license to remain engaged in septic system design work in Rhode Island. Licensed ISDS installers who only install systems are not affected.

Year of Transition

The rules have been revised to allow licensees to use their licenses as of October 1 of this year. The rule revisions, which also take effect on October 1st, contain added provisions to guide the activities of licensed designers.

During the one-year transition, using one's designer license is optional. However, those who choose to submit designs using the new license are responsible for witnessing and inspecting the installation of the septic system, and to stop construction and notify the department if the system cannot be installed according to the permit. Under the "old system," noted McLeod, DEM staff do the inspections.

In a first step toward implementing the regulations, DEM last winter sent exam applications to more than 900 licensed septic system installers and more than 300 active septic system designers. Pre-examination workshops were held in January to help prepare candidates for the exam. About 80 percent of the exam-takers passed the first set of exams.

Additional Training Opportunities

Additional training sessions for exams will be held twice in late October, with exams held in early December. Another round of exams will be held in the spring. Any person interested in obtaining an application should contact Galen McGovern at DEM's Office of Water Resources at 222-4700 ext. 7610.

A Class I license authorizes the design of a repair to an existing conventional septic system with a design flow of 900 gallons per day or less. Current licensed installers, professional land surveyors, and registered professional engineers are pre-qualified to apply for a Class I license.

Professional land surveyors and registered professional engineers will be able to apply for a Class II license which authorizes the design of repairs or alterations to conventional and certain alternative residential septic systems with a design flow of 2000 gallons per day or less and design of commercial systems with a flow of no more than 900 gallons per day.

Registered professional engineers will be able to apply for a Class III license which authorizes the design of all types or sizes of septic systems.

The Class IV license is for soil evaluators who will perform soil evaluations, which will be a necessary part of a soils-based siting procedure now under development by DEM. Exams for the Class IV license are not expected to be available for at least another year.

Soils-Based Approach

The soils-based approach concentrates DEM efforts at the beginning of the siting process, focusing DEM's resources on the proper location and design concept for a septic system site suitability rather than the current practice of visiting the site before and during system installation. Proper installation will be the responsibility of the designer under the new regulations, and DEM staff, while retaining oversight of the licensed professionals, can shift their workload to assist homeowners in repairs of failed septic systems, evaluate new technologies, and work with homeowners who have lots with difficult soil conditions that may require variances from minimum state standards. These efforts are expected to streamline the permitting process for many projects.

Many of the participants at an earlier workshop held by DEM to discuss the regulations expressed an interest in becoming soil evaluators, a process that includes academic training in soil science as a prerequisite for taking the Class IV exam. That exam will be scheduled after further revisions to the ISDS regulations involving soil-based siting of septic systems are completed. However, applications for the Class IV exam are being accepted now for future planning purposes.

For an application, or additional information on the licensing program, contact Galen McGovern at DEM's Office of Water Resources at 222-4700 ext. 7610.

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