As an Eastsound Sewer and Water Commissioner, I find this rate of testing unacceptable. For many years the ESWD has been attempting to connect homes inside the UGA, only to be told that septic fields had not failed and hence connection to the sewer was not warranted. Without testing, of any form, or compliance with existing County requirements, the ability for any of us to determine septic system failure rates is clearly limited. I believe that it is important for us to assure compliance with our current rules by administering appropriate fines and remedies to assure compliance, and to continue educational efforts to help islanders do the right thing to protect our environment.
First of all it’s important to realize that according to the code 100% compliance will not equate to 100% annually inspected. Most of the systems in the county only require inspection once every three years. So we need to determine what percent inspected equal 100% compliance (where we know that the minimum must exceed 33%) then we can look at mitigation plans to improve compliance. For example, if we say that there are 5000 septic systems in the county and 90% require inspection once every 3 years, 9 percent must be inspected annually and 1 percent must be inspected quarterly, then 100% inspection compliance is only 45.7% of the systems. Once we know the shortfall, we can begin to determine solutions.
It is my understanding that the current approach to drainfield inspection was established out of the desire for inspections to occur through educational efforts rather than regulatory enforcement. Before seeking a change in the ordinance, I would want to know more about the goals of the program, and the effort to date. Has the educational effort been fully funded? Have septic tank pumping companies been enrolled in educating their customers? How many septic tanks get pumped each year, and if we increased the level of engagement by septic pumping companies, could we significantly increase the number of drainfields that have been inspected?
To answer this question I contacted the County for more information – asking for further information about the statistics, what enforcement actions are in use and what enforcement options are available, recommendations for improving compliance rates, recommendations for any changes to the code, and the level of priority. I’ll imbed the answer I received below.
The compliance rates listed below are not satisfactory. I would support the Board of Health’s authority to institute rates/charges that the Treasurer can collect on the property tax statement which would provide a stable long-term funding source and eliminate the inspection report filing fee.
The O&M program plan and associated regulations were adopted by the San Juan County Board of Health in 2007. The program plan included a phased approached given our limited staff and resources. To fully implement the program it was anticipated that we would need 2 to 3 FTE’s and funding in excess of $300,000. Given the current economic climate and funding sources we only have 1 FTE’s to implement the program. As a result our compliance rates (systems with a current inspection report of file) are as follows:
Declared Sensitive Areas (inspections required yearly): 26%
Alternative Systems not in Sensitive Areas (inspections required yearly): 21%
Gravity Systems not in Sensitive Areas (inspections required every three years): 33%
Another important statistic is the number of systems that have had one or more inspections in the past five years. When we look at this the percentage increases to 46%.
Currently enforcement is limited to requiring inspections at time of sale and for building permits.
One change that would be effective is to change the way we collect fees for the program. Currently we rely on a $30 inspection report filing fee. As a result only those individuals that submit inspection reports pay for the program. A recent change in State law allows the Board of Health to institute rates/charges that the Treasurer can collect on the property tax statement. This would provide a stable long-term funding source and eliminate the inspection report filing fee.
We would rank this a high priority for our department.
Septic compliance is important, as noncompliance can be one of the largest polluters of our lands. I am in favor of educating homeowners to noncompliance dangers and continuing with the notices sent out to homeowners to have the sites inspected on time.