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Homesteading is illegal in Arkansas and something needs to be done about this

 
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I'm not sure how many of you are aware of this, but composting human waste in a reasonable manner and harvesting rainwater for household use is illegal in Arkansas. I've been homesteading/living off-grid in Arkansas are several years, and a few weeks ago I had a visit from a Health Department official warning me that my way of life is illegal. I'm not sure if I'll be persecuted for living naturally and in accordance with the principle of preserving nature, but things are getting real. There are probably hundreds or thousands of Arkansans living a lifestyle similar to me, oblivious to the Health Department regulations, but it's only a matter of time if changes aren't made to the laws. Homesteading is all about self-sufficiency and living life as a settler. I cleared my land and built my cabin entirely by myself and with family. But if you're required to have external engineers and inspectors develop and build a water and waste management system for you to be legal, then true homesteading is essentially illegal in Arkansas.

My homestead is very simple, I catch rainwater off my roof into a reservoir, I have a water pump that pumps the water into my cabin. It goes to a sink, shower, and urinal. I put the water through a Berkey filter to drink. I use only natural biodegradable soaps. This rainwater then goes down my drains and into a DIY underground leach field.  For solid waste, I use a Nature's Head composting toilet, and I have composting bays so that each batch will sit for 1 year to become fully finished compost before it is disturbed. Well in fact, almost every facet of this system is illegal under the Arkansas Health Department regulations.

Let's start with perhaps the most atrocious law, AR Code § 17-38-201 (2014).

(g) The State Board of Health shall allow the use of a harvested rainwater system used for a nonpotable purpose if the harvested rainwater system:
(1) Is designed by a professional engineer licensed in Arkansas;
(2) Is designed with appropriate cross-connection safeguards; and
(3) Complies with the Arkansas Plumbing Code.


So essentially, using rainwater for anything other than gardening is illegal. And even if it's used for gardening, you must jump through an expensive and prohibitive number of hoops to make it legal. There is NO excuse for this. I won't go on, because this law makes me speechless.

Now let's move on to the composting and disposal of graywater. The Arkansas ACT 402 OF 1977, RULES AND REGULATIONS PERTAINING TO ONSITE WASTEWATER SYSTEMS, DESIGNATED REPRESENTATIVES AND INSTALLERS.
If you review the "9.11. Composting/Incinerating Toilets" section of that bill, you will see that you must only use pre-manufactured composting toilets authorized by the Health Department, NSF 41 standard certified. I was also told that you need to jump through hoops to have your toilet system permitted. The problem is, one of the only composting toilet brands which are NSF 41 certified are Sun-mar toilets. The problem with these toilets is that they don't have a mechanism to divert urine. And generally speaking, mixing ALL of your urine in with the compost typically creates a disgusting mess. Completely unhealthy compost. You can read horror stories of people using these toilets in the reviews online of toilets like the Sun-mar Excel. They have a tendency to crack and spill toxic sludge on your floors. Personally, I use a Nature's Head toilet, and I have a flush urinal which feeds into my underground leech field (since urine is completely natural and sanitary, plus it's good for the soil). I've been doing it for many years, it's a dream to use, I've never experienced any odors. But the Nature's Head cannot pass NSF certification because it doesn't "compost" the urine, you're supposed to pour the urine out like any reasonable person would. Another major issue with the composting laws is section 10.7.3.

The stabilized compost from a composting toilet must be buried onsite or deposited
in an approved sanitary landfill.

That means that having composting bays on the ground to finish processing your compost after you dump it out of your composting toilet is illegal. It's also illegal to use this rich, healthy, clean soil for your ornamental plants or above-ground vegetables. If it's "stabilized" compost, then it's simply soil. But in the eyes of the law, it's still some kind of waste product.

On to the graywater issue. Here's an interesting, ridiculous and scary facet of Arkansas Health Department laws, apparently doing something as simple as peeing on the ground on your land is illegal. That is my understanding of the laws anyway, it's considered illegal dumping sewage/black water. Obviously you'd never be fined for that, but you COULD under the laws as they are. And that's scary. But what I'm doing, I certainly could be severely punished for. Me draining off shower water, and water that I've washed my hands or brushed my teeth with into an underground leech field is illegal. Any water coming out of a house from a pipe is considered wastewater, even if it's perfectly clean water you could drink. And all wastewater must go into a septic system.

This is a serious problem. Under the regulation of the Health Department, I'm guilty of polluting the earth with no ability to prove innocence. I have to comply with their draconian, cost prohibitive regulations. If I am to compost, I must compost their way which is unscientific and unclean. The only other option is to install an expensive septic system which I am against from a standpoint of principles. Septic systems are creating a toxic waste pit under your land, which leeches off into the ground. I'm sure septic repair companies could tell you all of their horror stories which would make anyone understand this. Composting is the perfect way to protect nature and yet it's illegal in The Natural State.

I'm not sure who is in charge of the Health Department and who voted them in or put them in power. Perhaps this is an issue which will need to go to the state legislature. I'm not well versed on what political actions need to be taken, but I want to become politically active on this issue. I'm sure that there are a wealth of homesteaders in Arkansas who are living under the radar, and are afraid to become politically active or speak out in fear of prosecution. I am too. But after having a Health Department official come to my house, I am even more scared but I am motivated to do something about this. Perhaps the legislature or Health Department simply needs to be nudged and educated, because there is a wealth of research on how safe and environmentally friendly it can be, the research from Carleton University is an example. I'm not a well-spoken person, I'd prefer to keep to myself and live my life but I'm beginning to feel the need to speak out. I know in my heart of hearts that I'm living my life the way I should be, and I know that if anyone really took the time to see how I do things that they would agree I'm protecting the health of the environment around me much more than my neighbors.

Are there any other Arkansan homesteaders who are willing to do something about this? Is there anything we can do? Are there any existing activist groups? Also, does anyone have any information or advice as far as what actions Health Department could potentially take against me and how I can defend myself and my way of life? Please share any information or thoughts you have!

EDIT: I was browsing the State Legislature's website (arkleg.state.ar.us) and the way to change these laws is starting to become more clear to me. You can browse all of the Senate and House of Representative legislatures in the state, and you can see a list of all of the bills they sponsor. I even found the original bill which enacted the rainwater harvesting regulations. It was sponsored by Senator Altes who unfortunately is no longer a senator. But anyway, this website has email and phone numbers for all of the legislatures in Arkansas. These are the people who can draft and sponsor bills/acts to change these Health Department regulations. So needless to say, I've begun politely emailing senators, providing them with information Also cordially questioning them on how they feel about laws like the rainwater harvesting one, and trying to see if they can find a way to justify why it exist or what purpose it serves. Please, if you care about these issues, get in contact with the state legislatures and perhaps we can make a change. You can even email them anonymously.
 
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Location: Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep clay/loam with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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Did something happen to call attention to your lifestyle?
Otherwise, no matter the law here, we have found the enforcement in rural areas non existent.

Early seventies through 2015 we lived on three different properties with either outhouses or composting toilets...the earliest 'homestead' not even the tax assessor came up the trail to check on us, just asked what we were doing up there

We lived for fifteen years at our last home on forty acres with a sawdust toilet indoors and an outhouse for potlucks and parties and even had occasional public events there using the outhouse....not a whisper of a complaint.

We have always had some form of rain water catchment...barrels and buckets quite publicly visible.  

I agree the law is too restrictive but that's Arkansas legislature for you as illustrated in more recently passed legislation in other areas




 
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Did something happen to call attention to your lifestyle?  



That was also my first thought.  The law is very much the same here in France and I would imagine probably in the whole of Europe.  Rain water for anything else than gardening and washing your car is a no-no.  I don't even dare to look into the regulations for humanure.  Still, many people here live under the radar, so to speak and enjoy the kind of life that you described.

I am not much good for fighting laws in Arkansas all the way from France, but I wish you good luck with your dealings with the authorities and hope that you will find help somewhere, somehow.
 
Marcus Welch
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Judith Browning wrote:Did something happen to call attention to your lifestyle?
Otherwise, no matter the law here, we have found the enforcement in rural areas non existent.

Early seventies through 2015 we lived on three different properties with either outhouses or composting toilets...the earliest 'homestead' not even the tax assessor came up the trail to check on us, just asked what we were doing up there

We lived for fifteen years at our last home on forty acres with a sawdust toilet indoors and an outhouse for potlucks and parties and even had occasional public events there using the outhouse....not a whisper of a complaint.

We have always had some form of rain water catchment...barrels and buckets quite publicly visible.  

I agree the law is too restrictive but that's Arkansas legislature for you as illustrated in more recently passed legislation in other areas



I was told by the Health Department official that a realtor got footage of my property and sent it to him. I believe they may be getting ready to try and sell nearby property. I do live on a smaller lot and my house is visible from adjacent land, but the only thing out of the ordinary to see is the water tank hooked up to the gutter, as well as a generator running. It doesn't even look much like a homestead, it looks like a neat and tidy, modern tiny house/cabin. I'm tucked away in the woods as well. Perhaps that's where I went wrong, I should have tried to get more acreage even if I couldn't afford it at the time. But you're lucky, all it takes is some who doesn't like you to fly a drone over your homestead and get video of it for them to report you and have the Health Department coming after you.
 
Judith Browning
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all it takes is some who doesn't like you to fly a drone over your homestead and get video of it for them to report you and have the Health Department coming after you.



Marcus, that may be the biggest difference right there...most of our life was before drones.  We once had the sheriff's department ride up on horseback to see what 'them hippies' were doing up there but nothing came of it.

I'm really sorry that this has happened.  I wouldn't expect there to be any actual penalty though?

Sounds like a realtor ploy to get more cash for a sale? and if they start building up around you your own taxes will likely go up.  

How is your place accessed? Our old spot was always called 'unimproved' I think, meaning no utilities.
Arkansas has the homestead tax credit that is an interesting use of the word as it applies to anyone owning land that they are living on, no matter ones income.
 
Marcus Welch
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Judith Browning wrote:

all it takes is some who doesn't like you to fly a drone over your homestead and get video of it for them to report you and have the Health Department coming after you.



Marcus, that may be the biggest difference right there...most of our life was before drones.  We once had the sheriff's department ride up on horseback to see what 'them hippies' were doing up there but nothing came of it.

I'm really sorry that this has happened.  I wouldn't expect there to be any actual penalty though?

Sounds like a realtor ploy to get more cash for a sale? and if they start building up around you your own taxes will likely go up.  

How is your place accessed? Our old spot was always called 'unimproved' I think, meaning no utilities.
Arkansas has the homestead tax credit that is an interesting use of the word as it applies to anyone owning land that they are living on, no matter ones income.



True, things are different now with drones. But it seems like rural Arkansas has worked on the "good ol' boy" system for a long time. The local sheriff may think a family is a little different, but if they're good people then you wouldn't have anything to worry about regardless of regulations. But then if the sheriff has it out for you, or the Health Department, or your neighbor then they can find a way to throw the book at you. It just depends how much of a stickler your local area/people who know about your homestead are for following regulations to a tee. But it's surprising to see that the rainwater harvesting law was passed in 2014. These kind of laws can just slip into the books without anyone noticing, and without any logical basis. I know I'm doing right by myself, my neighbors and the environment but I still have to live in fear. It shouldn't have to be like this. I guess it does help coming on this forum and seeing other Arkansans who are doing things like I am.

Right now my house is assessed as unimproved, but that's just because they don't know about it. From my understanding any land with a permeant structure is improved land, but I think it's on the tax assessor to figure that out and make adjustments. My parents said that they built their regular house and it took them like a decade or more to change their assessment. I'm not too worried about taxes though, I'm worried about being fined exorbitant amounts of money. I think the way it works is, if the Health Department feels like taking action they need to have an official observe some kind of illegal activity like dumping waste, and then they issue a warning, maybe like 30 days. And if you don't fix the issues they probably start fining you per day/week/month until it's fixed. Not sure exactly. The law says the penalty is between $100-$1,000 but how often they can fine you I'm not sure. It's also a misdemeanor. But I just wonder, does the Health Department official have the right to trespass on your property to inspect it for violations? I can't find the laws around that anywhere. When the guy was here I didn't ask him to leave, I told him I compost but that I do it properly. He said something along the lines that he would have to see something on the ground to take legal action. What exactly constitutes "something", I don't know. They probably have a lot of leeway to make their own judgements which I suppose is a good and bad thing.  
 
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Marcus Welch wrote:I'm not sure how many of you are aware of this, but composting human waste in a reasonable manner and harvesting rainwater for household use is illegal in Arkansas. I've been homesteading/living off-grid in Arkansas are several years, and a few weeks ago I had a visit from a Health Department official warning me that my way of life is illegal. I'm not sure if I'll be persecuted for living naturally and in accordance with the principle of preserving nature, but things are getting real. There are probably hundreds or thousands of Arkansans living a lifestyle similar to me, oblivious to the Health Department regulations, but it's only a matter of time if changes aren't made to the laws. Homesteading is all about self-sufficiency and living life as a settler. I cleared my land and built my cabin entirely by myself and with family. But if you're required to have external engineers and inspectors develop and build a water and waste management system for you to be legal, then true homesteading is essentially illegal in Arkansas.

My homestead is very simple, I catch rainwater off my roof into a reservoir, I have a water pump that pumps the water into my cabin. It goes to a sink, shower, and urinal. I put the water through a Berkey filter to drink. I use only natural biodegradable soaps. This rainwater then goes down my drains and into a DIY underground leach field.  For solid waste, I use a Nature's Head composting toilet, and I have composting bays so that each batch will sit for 1 year to become fully finished compost before it is disturbed. Well in fact, almost every facet of this system is illegal under the Arkansas Health Department regulations.

Let's start with perhaps the most atrocious law, AR Code § 17-38-201 (2014).

(g) The State Board of Health shall allow the use of a harvested rainwater system used for a nonpotable purpose if the harvested rainwater
system:
(1) Is designed by a professional engineer licensed in Arkansas;
(2) Is designed with appropriate cross-connection safeguards; and


How are they going to police every single mud puddle a person has in there yard or rain drop. That falls from the Sky and tell them that's illegal and throw them into jail or prison over something so lame and pathetic. Our government are a bunch of democratic satanic hypocrites.
(3) Complies with the Arkansas Plumbing Code.


So essentially, using rainwater for anything other than gardening is illegal. And even if it's used for gardening, you must jump through an expensive and prohibitive number of hoops to make it legal. There is NO excuse for this. I won't go on, because this law makes me speechless.

Now let's move on to the composting and disposal of graywater. The Arkansas ACT 402 OF 1977, RULES AND REGULATIONS PERTAINING TO ONSITE WASTEWATER SYSTEMS, DESIGNATED REPRESENTATIVES AND INSTALLERS.
If you review the "9.11. Composting/Incinerating Toilets" section of that bill, you will see that you must only use pre-manufactured composting toilets authorized by the Health Department, NSF 41 standard certified. I was also told that you need to jump through hoops to have your toilet system permitted. The problem is, one of the only composting toilet brands which are NSF 41 certified are Sun-mar toilets. The problem with these toilets is that they don't have a mechanism to divert urine. And generally speaking, mixing ALL of your urine in with the compost typically creates a disgusting mess. Completely unhealthy compost. You can read horror stories of people using these toilets in the reviews online of toilets like the Sun-mar Excel. They have a tendency to crack and spill toxic sludge on your floors. Personally, I use a Nature's Head toilet, and I have a flush urinal which feeds into my underground leech field (since urine is completely natural and sanitary, plus it's good for the soil). I've been doing it for many years, it's a dream to use, I've never experienced any odors. But the Nature's Head cannot pass NSF certification because it doesn't "compost" the urine, you're supposed to pour the urine out like any reasonable person would. Another major issue with the composting laws is section 10.7.3.

The stabilized compost from a composting toilet must be buried onsite or deposited
in an approved sanitary landfill.

That means that having composting bays on the ground to finish processing your compost after you dump it out of your composting toilet is illegal. It's also illegal to use this rich, healthy, clean soil for your ornamental plants or above-ground vegetables. If it's "stabilized" compost, then it's simply soil. But in the eyes of the law, it's still some kind of waste product.

On to the graywater issue. Here's an interesting, ridiculous and scary facet of Arkansas Health Department laws, apparently doing something as simple as peeing on the ground on your land is illegal. That is my understanding of the laws anyway, it's considered illegal dumping sewage/black water. Obviously you'd never be fined for that, but you COULD under the laws as they are. And that's scary. But what I'm doing, I certainly could be severely punished for. Me draining off shower water, and water that I've washed my hands or brushed my teeth with into an underground leech field is illegal. Any water coming out of a house from a pipe is considered wastewater, even if it's perfectly clean water you could drink. And all wastewater must go into a septic system.

This is a serious problem. Under the regulation of the Health Department, I'm guilty of polluting the earth with no ability to prove innocence. I have to comply with their draconian, cost prohibitive regulations. If I am to compost, I must compost their way which is unscientific and unclean. The only other option is to install an expensive septic system which I am against from a standpoint of principles. Septic systems are creating a toxic waste pit under your land, which leeches off into the ground. I'm sure septic repair companies could tell you all of their horror stories which would make anyone understand this. Composting is the perfect way to protect nature and yet it's illegal in The Natural State.

I'm not sure who is in charge of the Health Department and who voted them in or put them in power. Perhaps this is an issue which will need to go to the state legislature. I'm not well versed on what political actions need to be taken, but I want to become politically active on this issue. I'm sure that there are a wealth of homesteaders in Arkansas who are living under the radar, and are afraid to become politically active or speak out in fear of prosecution. I am too. But after having a Health Department official come to my house, I am even more scared but I am motivated to do something about this. Perhaps the legislature or Health Department simply needs to be nudged and educated, because there is a wealth of research on how safe and environmentally friendly it can be, the research from Carleton University is an example. I'm not a well-spoken person, I'd prefer to keep to myself and live my life but I'm beginning to feel the need to speak out. I know in my heart of hearts that I'm living my life the way I should be, and I know that if anyone really took the time to see how I do things that they would agree I'm protecting the health of the environment around me much more than my neighbors.

Are there any other Arkansan homesteaders who are willing to do something about this? Is there anything we can do? Are there any existing activist groups? Also, does anyone have any information or advice as far as what actions Health Department could potentially take against me and how I can defend myself and my way of life? Please share any information or thoughts you have!

EDIT: I was browsing the State Legislature's website (arkleg.state.ar.us) and the way to change these laws is starting to become more clear to me. You can browse all of the Senate and House of Representative legislatures in the state, and you can see a list of all of the bills they sponsor. I even found the original bill which enacted the rainwater harvesting regulations. It was sponsored by Senator Altes who unfortunately is no longer a senator. But anyway, this website has email and phone numbers for all of the legislatures in Arkansas. These are the people who can draft and sponsor bills/acts to change these Health Department regulations. So needless to say, I've begun politely emailing senators, providing them with information Also cordially questioning them on how they feel about laws like the rainwater harvesting one, and trying to see if they can find a way to justify why it exist or what purpose it serves. Please, if you care about these issues, get in contact with the state legislatures and perhaps we can make a change. You can even email them anonymously.

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