A proposed Clallam County code will require homeowners or hired professionals to test that deep dark place most fear to lift the lid from - septic tanks.
The county's On-site Septic Work Group produced a semifinalized draft of a septic code, which mandates the inspection of all septic systems in the county.
The county is required by state legislation to track and record all septic systems and their maintenance. The work group was formed to create a feasible and cost-effective solution to the mandate. The group is made up of county staff, real estate agents, septic experts, city, tribal and citizen representatives, among others.
After more than a year of research and dialogue, the group has given the Clallam County Board of Health a draft of the proposed code, which it will review during its June 17 meeting.
"The public hearing is set up to gather additional citizen responses because we are trying to do this with the public in mind, they are the ones affected," Clallam County Environmental Heath director Andy Brastad said. "The board can either approve the code, reject the code or ask for more time to review."
Once the code is approved it will take the county some time to set up tools to enforce its rules. Brastad said the state law is in effect but the county will not begin enforcing it until it is ready, at which time the public will be notified.
Generally, the code identifies what homeowner obligations are, what septic professional obligations are and what the county must do to track the information.
The proposed code will affect everyone not attached to a sewer system.
Homeowners with a gravity or conventional system will need to have it inspected every three years. Those with unconventional systems will need their systems inspected annually.
The code allows homeowners who take a certified class to inspect their own systems or they can hire a certified septic professional. Those living in the Sequim area will need to have a professional inspect their system in the first year after the code's approval due to the area's influence on the surrounding marine areas.
The goal of the state in requiring counties to track septic maintenance is to ensure the systems continue to work effectively, that discharges are clean and that surrounding waterways are unaffected by human waste. There are more than five beach closures north and east of Sequim due to pollution.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates about 2-5 percent of all septic systems are failing.
If a septic is failing, the county would require a replacement or connection to a sewer system if the property is within 200 feet of a sewer line.
Due to an EPA grant, home- owners have a one-time chance to get approved to do their own inspections through free septic courses June 12, 19, 26 and 28 in Sequim. Certification should last at least three years.
The same grant funds some system repairs and replacements if certain criteria are met. Those interested in the septic classes or the EPA cost-sharing program should contact Janine Reed at 417-2593.
The code splits septic professionals into two tiers, each with their own certification test. One specialist would be able to do routine testing and maintenance for conventional systems after getting six months experience. Specialists with higher certification would be able to test and work on unconventional systems after one year of experience.
"We had requests to revisit the language regarding how these professionals would be classified because if you set the bar high for all professionals, there may be a shortage," Brastad said, indicating a ready market of testing professionals is one tool that must be in place before enforcement begins.
"So if you need to get your gravity system inspected for a real estate sale, we didn't want things getting tied up because you don't need an expert for a system more advanced than the one you have."
The county will require systems to be inspected on properties in escrow.
The state has not identified a funding mechanism to help the county pay for its obligations, which include amassing a database for the maintenance information and tracking certification of homeowners and professionals to do testing.
"We have grants, which are seed money to get this thing going," Brastad said. "We've hired a consultant to look at funding options for the future."
The goal is to have a uniform assessment to all those with septic systems and not those on sewer systems.
While the health board may approve the septic code, it likely will be a formality for the work group to continue gathering tools for the county to institute the code. Brastad said the county will make it clear when the county will begin enforcing the regulations.
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