County to enforce
new septic rules
Whatcom County is getting a head start on new state rules to maintain healthy septic systems.
Elements of state regulations that go into effect in July will be effective in Whatcom County starting in April, requiring owners of on-site septic systems (OSS) to pay licensed specialists to perform regular inspections of their systems.
“The new state law requires that your system is inspected every one to three years depending on the type of system you have,” explained county environmental health supervisor Jeff Hegedus.
Conventional systems consisting only of a septic tank and a drainfield will need an inspection every three years while all other systems will need an annual inspection.
Where the county has gone one step further than state regulations is to require licensed inspectors.
“The state is basically saying the homeowner is responsible for maintaining their system but how good is it if they just send me a postcard saying they did it?” Hegedus asked. ‘We wanted qualified people doing the inspections.” Inspectors will need to show they have at least two years experience with on-site septic systems, pass a written or oral examination, and post a surety bond to get their license.
There are currently eight OSS operations and maintenance inspectors certified by the county, including Blaine contractor Breivik Construction.
“We’ve been in business since 1979,” said company owner Brian Breivik. “We do all phases of construction but we’re heavily into drainfields and septics.” The company is also a dealer for the Whitewater pre-treatment system, which sends cleaner water to the drainfield and extends system-life.
Breivik said his company would have two OSS inspectors serving all of Whatcom and Skagit counties. “They check around your drainfield, see if there’s standing water or signs of anything wrong,” he said. “They’ll check your tank, any pre-treatment.”
Breivik said septic inspections may become a legal requirement for homeowners, but regular inspections and pumping can save them time and money. “It can extend the life of your drainfield,” he said. “You should have your tank pumped every three years and clean it out really good and check all the baffles.”
Currently the county health department charges $150 for homeowners who request an inspection. “We’ll probably charge $100,” Breivik said, to inspect the system and send a report to the county health department.
Hegedus said that while the county will get the inspection program rolling in April, with 30,000 systems in the county they didn’t anticipate any active enforcement right away, giving the community time to catch up. “The program’s not quite up and running so until it is we won’t actively enforce it,” he said.
In Skagit County Hegedus said they have been letting trained homeowners perform their own inspections but will be moving to an inspector-based inspection system for sensitive areas like shorelines.
“The idea is now that we’re getting more urbanized, we are facing more water quality issues,” Hegedus said. “It is important septics don’t stay out-of-sight, out-of-mind.”
Failing septic fields have been fingered as a possible contributor to fecal coliform pollution in Drayton Harbor and the Puget Sound Restoration Fund, Trillium and Whatcom County Public Works are working with volunteer homeowners to see to what extent what goes into their septic tank winds up in the harbor.