Efforts underway to find leaking septic systems

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN

BG Independent News

 

Though sewer lines are inching their way across Wood County, there are still an estimated 14,000 homes that continue to rely on septic systems. An estimated half of those are failing and leaking raw sewage.

By later this year, all 26 municipalities in Wood County will have public sewers. But many homes in rural areas don’t have that option.  And many may not be aware their septic systems are failing.

“’Working fine’ is they flush the toilet and it goes away,” said Lana Glore, Wood County Health District environmental division director.

But the question is – where does the sewage go?

Since the average life expectancy of a septic system is 30 years, Glore said it’s possible that as many as 7,000 septic systems are sending sewage into public waterways.

“In an ideal world, we’d have everybody sewered,” she said.

Because aging and failing septic systems are a problem statewide, the Ohio Department of Health wants local health departments to examine every system.

The Wood County Health Division already has a septic system operation and maintenance plan, but it is on a much smaller level, Glore said. Inspections of systems are complaint-driven or prompted by real estate sales. Since many older septic systems were installed without permits, they have likely never been inspected.

“The first step is going to be playing catch up,” Glore said. “Where are our critical areas?”

The health district consults with the Northwestern Water and Sewer District to see if plans exist to extend sewer services to problem areas.

The health district works with the county building inspection office on preventing problems by determining the best locations for septic systems and making sure space is left for replacement systems. The health division also partners with the county engineer’s office to help map out systems using GIS.

The health division also works with landowners to find the most reasonable solutions.

If those older failing systems are inspected, and it can’t be proven that the sewage is going into a leachfield or a secondary system, then they have to be replaced. Septic system replacements can be quite costly, especially if bedrock is encountered.

The health district hopes to use staff to design the septic systems and test soils, which can be a big cost savings to residents who would otherwise have to hire system designers and soil testers. The district also uses grant funding to help homeowners with the costs. New septic systems can cost anywhere from $6,000 to $20,000, Glore said.

“In all cases, we look for the best system for that homeowner,” she said.

In order to comply with the state’s rule that each septic system be inspected every five years, the health district is hoping to hire another employee. The operations and maintenance program will be financed with a $100 fee on each homeowner with a septic system. That fee won’t be charged until the inspections begin.

“We didn’t feel it was right to just start sending letters out to people,” demanding a fee be paid, Glore said.

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