Septic Skeptic

Home septic systems are always a concern in our town. Clearly, everyone needs to get rid of their sewage, but nowadays there are different systems for doing that. At the recent meeting of Coalmont residents with the regional director, Brad Hope, there were some interesting questions raised, and some even more interesting answers.

Regarding this subject, the opening question was “What rights do we have regarding the Cottages of Coalmont?” As everyone knows, this is a proposal for 24 seasonal homes on 26 lots. That was a hot topic, and as it turned out, Brad had already done some research on it. He had determined that the rules regarding septic systems had changed recently. Yes, again.

The way it is now, as long as a professional signs off on the septic systems, Interior Health will approve the septic permits, and then the RDOS would approve building permits for the buildings. The responsibility for making sure that the system is built to standards that insure that it would be safe to operate no longer rests with the government. This important responsibility now rests with a private individual with expertise in these systems. That is indeed a big change from the way we are used to thinking about health issues.

So, what could happen? One could imagine that if things went ahead, the locals would gripe about it for a while and then just get used to how things were. Isn’t that how it usually goes? Well, as it turns out the fallout from the proposed project could be more than people would be willing to forget, or even able to live with.

First of all, clean water and sewage go hand in hand. You need both, and the way it is here, they interact. If the high concentration of homes causes the water table to drop and dry up existing wells, the RDOS would not be responsible. There is the possibility that existing landowners wanting to drill a deeper well to access water in the same location as their existing well may be denied permission because their well is within 100 feet of one of the new septic systems. This would leave the homeowner without water, and land that had no value.

The septic systems proposed are referred to as Type 3. This type of system is not recommended for seasonal use, requires constant electrical power, and requires quarterly monitoring. Those are pretty demanding requirements and one might wonder what kind of guarantee there is that they would remain safe after the initial installation. Although in theory, Interior Health is supposed to monitor this, in reality their budget only permits spot checks. If the septic systems fail, Interior Health and the RDOS are not responsible and problems would have to be addressed by the professional who signed off on the systems.

That sounds fine in the best of all worlds. However, if the professional is out of business, unavailable, or bankrupt, there is no backup plan to protect other property owners in Coalmont, other than to appeal to the offending property owners to fix the problem. We are generally pretty good at solving problems between neighbours here. Often, the solution is simply to live and let live. Unfortunately with someissues that is not going to work, and outside intervention becomes inevitable. A health issue is one such situation.

There are many questions. How would you even know when your neighbour’s septic is out of compliance? By the time you find out, would it be too late? In the case of an old fashioned septic, if it is not maintained it does not become an immediate problem. With the placement of these new high tech systems that is not the case and a problem could easily develop which effects neighbours. A Type 3 septic which has gone out of compliance can pollute the surrounding area with effluent which does not meet standard health requirements. That is why it needs to be inspected four times a year. In the case of the Coalmont Cottages, if a serious pollution problem developed, it might become necessary to put in a community sewage system.

Those Coalmontians present at the meeting did not see community sewage as a desirable thing because of the economic hardship it would create. Many would not be able to afford such a system because it would cost homeowners well in excess of $10,000 per household. That kind of bill could force some people from their homes. In that regard, it is clear that some people would pay a higher price than others.

Prior experience in other communities demonstrates that this can be forced upon us. Brad said the RDOS and Interior Health realize there is a potential problem but as the current rules stand, there is nothing that can be done. He also stated that it could take as long as three years to have the rules changed.

We obviously have a complex situation going on here. We are all involved in this one. With new regulations that put many new responsibilities on the home owner and less on the government, things could get sour. What looks like a nice green and sustainable project on the surface, could turn out to be quite different underneath.