Data complete for new county sewage system inspection program
By Randa Wagner -
The proposed program for household sewage inspections in Morrow County is nearly complete.
Environmental Health Director Brian Benick spent two years putting together a database that includes every property that has a sewage system in Morrow County.
“I created a file for every home in this county,” Benick said. “We matched up all our old records, too.”
Over half of Morrow County’s 10,293 household sewage systems are older than 25 years, which is the average life-span for a household sewage system. Currently, all household sewage treatment systems with mechanical components (aeration systems) are inspected yearly, a requirement since 1989. The proposed rule changes state systems without mechanical components (non-mechanical) will be required to have an inspection once every ten years.
The question is not so much ‘is the system up to code’ as it is ‘is the system creating a public nuisance?’ Benick explained. Does it smell bad, look bad, is there black water oozing from the ground’s surface?
“We’re not going after systems because they are old,” Bennick said, “only if they’re creating a problem or in a state of failure.”
He added this also applies to the Amish.
“They will be subject to the inspection as well; we have authority for privies,” Benick said. “When an Amish family puts in a leaching privy which is, basically, a hole, you can’t do that. When we find that, we will be requiring them to put in a vault privy because that (a hole), in itself, is a nuisance.”
“I think they’re going to be very unhappy with the state rules,” Health Commissioner Angela Smith said.
Bennick noted some Amish houses have been built over the last 10–20 years that have never obtained a permit for a sewage system.
“They have no legal privy,” Benick said. “You have to have a vault privy, you have to hold it, contain it’ you can’t just put it in a hole.”
Smith explained it will take ten years to complete all the inspections, so they have divided the database up equally into tenths, randomly selecting homes rather than doing whole townships at a time. Since property owners do not know when their inspection will be, they can take steps to prepare ahead to make sure their system is in good workign order.
“If they currently have a contract for service, they can have their tanks pumped and include an inspection. Then they can provide the inspection report to the Health Department.,” she said. She expects some backlash, and nothing about the program is designed to be punitive. The inspectors, she maintained, intend to be as accomodating and helpful in the process as is possible under the law.
“We’re going out on a limb a bit to try to provide and manage grants that can provide assistance to folks who can’t afford to comply,” Smith stressed. One challenge is the ‘mentality’ that a sewage system is a one-time expense for a home, but it’s not going to last forever.
There’s mainentance and upkeep and expense associated with homes, Smith said, and when it comes to improvements, people think of tangible updates like new driveways, room additions or heating systems. People don’t think about their sewage systems until they stop working.
“They just want the sewage to ‘go away,’ Smith said. “They don’t think about, ‘there are things I have to do every year,’ and what will extend or shorten the life of the system. They don’t want to think about it and they sure don’t want to invest in it.”
A person who lives within village limits pays a monthly fee for their sewage service, Smith said. The system has to be maintained, and it’s the same concept with a rural septic system.
“It’s just not something folks have been forced to reconcile with on a household sewage system,” she noted. “No one wants their household sewage system regulated, but everybody wants their neighbor’s household sewage system regulated.”
The Health Dept. is working on getting over $400,000 in funding this year to help people who can’t afford [to get their systems repaired]. Smith insisted they will always look for the least expensive ‘fix’ for a property owner to put the system back in operation.
“Our goal is to get failed systems replaced with a working system over a period of time,” Bennick said. Morrow County is unique in that we’re at the headwaters of every stream in the [area]. It’s very sensitve because all our waste goes somewhere else.”
Smith and Bennick plan to hold educational meetings with at township meetings and other venues.
The Morrow County Health Department’s website www.morrowcountyhealth.org contains the complete Household Sewage Disposal Regulations and the Ohio Department Of Health’s Sewage Treatment System Rules. These documents can be viewed at any time and include descriptions of terminology and the Ohio Revised Code that supports the rules.