By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
As many as 6,000 failing septic systems in Wood County are sending sewage into public waterways.
That estimate is based on the fact that there are approximately 12,000 septic systems operating in the county, with the average life expectancy of the systems at 30 years, according to Wood County Health Commissioner Ben Batey and Environmental Division Director Lana Glore.
Because aging and failing septic systems are a problem statewide, the Ohio Department of Health has suggested that local health departments examine every system.
“They want all septic systems to be looked at,” Glore told the Wood County Commissioners Tuesday during a meeting on septic systems in the county.
Though admirable, the plan is quite “grandiose,” Batey said, explaining that the Wood County Health Division can’t meet that goal unless they go on a hiring spree.
“The state’s expectation that we check every system in the next five years – that’s just not feasible,” he said.
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.
The health division 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.
“We’re working toward better use of technology,” Batey said.
The health division also works with landowners to find the most reasonable solutions.
“Our idea is always to work with the owners and give them the best options,” Glore said. “Our first goal is always working with homeowners and property owners.”
While sanitary sewers are being extended to more rural areas of the county, there are still many areas years away from that option. Health district officials realize there are many older septic systems that were installed without permits and have never been inspected.
“A lot of the older systems went into field tiles,” Glore said.
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 septic system is almost worth more than the house then,” Commissioner Doris Herringshaw said.
But both Batey and Glore assured the commissioners that the health district works to help homeowners with the costs. For example, the district has staff who can design the systems, which can be a big cost savings to residents.
The health district also uses grant funding to help homeowners with the costs.
“We’re optimistic we should be able to expand that program,” Batey said. However, he cautioned that grant funding can’t handle all the expenses. “The need is always going to be more than the funding.”
But he said as long as homeowners are making an effort, the health district will work with them.
“We have always strived to help residents,” Batey said. “It’s not our job to penalize them. If you’re working with us, we’re more than willing to give extensions.”