Good water quality depends on good septic systems
As part of its effort to protect water quality, the Environment Council continues to work to raise awareness about the importance of good septic system practices. That’s because pollution from faulty septics and holding tanks contributes to high levels of phosphorus, excessive algae and weed growth, and bacteria levels in water.
About three years ago, Environment Council members became more concerned than ever that old and inadequate septic systems were polluting our lakes. In 2010, we formed a task team to study how septic systems affect water quality and to find out what other jurisdictions in Ontario were doing with regard to septic re-inspection programs.
The study team also reviewed relevant research and legislation and consulted with the Peterborough County-City Health Unit (PCCHU) and the County Planning Department on the subject of septic re-inspection programs.
Recognizing that under the Ontario Building Code, municipalities are responsible for any possible septic re-inspection program, we presented our findings to the four townships surrounding our lakes in February 2012. We asked that they consider a planned program of septic re-inspections for all septics and holding tanks in each municipality, working with the Health Unit. The idea was well received by the Townships. However, because of their need to focus first on the Source Water Protection Program, it was agreed that further discussion on ways of financing and carrying out a septic program would be held in fall of 2012.
The Environment Council and Douro-Dummer Township hosted a second workshop on November 5, 2012. The workshop was attended by representatives of the four townships surrounding the lakes, the Peterborough County-City Health Unit and the County of Peterborough Planning Department.
Drawing on the Ontario Rural Wastewater Study conducted by the University of Guelph, the Environment Council presented an overview of septic re-inspection programs undertaken by various townships across the Province, most of them in “cottage country”. These programs showed that on average, 25 per cent of all systems inspected required some upgrading.
Workshop participants then discussed major aspects of possible township re-inspection programs: Reasons to introduce/not introduce a program, what steps should be considered, and how a township might finance and administer a program.
At the conclusion of the workshop, the townships agreed to consider the issue further and the Environment Council offered to provide them with detailed examples of successful re-inspection programs in other jurisdictions. Since the workshop, North Kawartha Township has invited the other three townships to continue the discussion at a meeting on May 2, 2013.
Many septic systems need repair or replacement
Information gathered by the Environment Council study team shows that re-inspection programs elsewhere in Ontario found up to 25 per cent of inspected systems needed some form of work to bring them up to standard. Since our lakes have so many older cottages, islands and water access only properties, many septics and holding tanks may be older than average. This raises the possibility that the number of faulty septics on our lakes is at the high end of the range found in other locations.
For quick tips on how to take care of your septic system, click on Septic Tips.
For more detailed information on septic systems, go to www.pcchu.ca/my-home-environment/my-environment/sewage or www.FOCA.on.ca/environment-resources.