County keeping up with state’s evolving sewage rules

Although the Ohio Department of Health is proposing new rules for sewage treatment systems, Seneca County General Health District Environmental Director Laura Wallrabenstein said the county is on its way to being in compliance.

Wallrabenstein said changes were made in the state law starting in 2007. Since then, the health district has been in compliance with the law and has been working to make the possible changes less of a shock to residents.

The law made it illegal to discharge septic systems off of the lot and discontinued the use of sand filter beds and aerators on new lots, Wallrabenstein said.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency does allow the construction of a national pollution discharge elimination system, which allows discharging off of the lot. Wallrabenstein said the NPDES can only be used as a replacement system.

“We can use them when we have to do a replacement system,” she said. “If somebody lives on a very small lot and their current system has failed and they need to put in a new system and there is no room.”

Residents must still go through the permitting process with the health district and must pay all the fees associated with a new system. Wallrabenstein said residents would not have to pay for a soil analysis, as they would not be completing a system that would require the analysis.

Wallrabenstein said the department must then contact the EPA to state that the NPDES system is the last option for the property.

Residents also must buy a $200, five year permit through the EPA for the new system. After five years, a renewal permit costs $100.

Within the proposed new rules, more residents may also be required to participate in the operations and maintenance program.

“The state wants to see more systems in the operations and maintenance program,” she said. “There are thousands of systems in the county.”

Wallrabenstein also said since 2007, all new systems are added to an operations and maintenance program. In the past, she said residents were concerned about the septic systems’ lack of maintenance.

“This program will track and follow every new system that goes into the ground since 2007,” she said. “We had to do that for the EPA, for the NPDES systems, and it just made sense to do it for all systems.”

Residents are to receive reminder letters to have their systems serviced by an outside provider and are required to certify the completion with the health district.

“Most systems need to be looked at every six months,” she said. “Some simpler systems need it just once a year.”

Wallrabenstein said the program helps the health district with knowing how the systems work and what are the best options for new systems in the future.

“It teaches us valuable lessons, as far as what does and doesn’t work and what problems we see,” she said. “It’s a good thing, but it’s a time consuming thing.”

At this time, Wallrabenstein said residents are not charged directly for the maintenance and operation program.

To get more residents involved in the program, she said the department will have to go door to door to collect information on the systems on older lots.

“We have moved, in the past seven or so years, to a system of property files,” she said. “Every unique address in the county has their own property file and in that property file is any information we have on that.”

Wallrabenstein said residents with older systems would not be required to update the system during the information collection period as long as the system continues to function correctly.

“If it’s old and clearly doesn’t function then we have to do something about that,” she said. “Once we can determine that your septic system is causing a public health nuisance, then obviously we have to deal with that.”

Residents would still have to check their system yearly and get their tank pumped every five years.

She said she did not expect many changes to affect the county, as the health district has already moved forward on the Ohio Department of Health’s most recent requirements.

She also said although areas such as Melmore, Old Fort and McCutchenville should not be affected by the proposed rules, but the EPA may put them under orders like Bascom.

“The ideal solution in those areas is a public sewer of some kind,” she said. “Those kinds of relatively densely populated areas with small lots and old septic systems really need some type of public sewer system.”

Wallrabenstein said the rules could be enacted as early as May 2014.

For more information, contact the Seneca County General Health District at (419) 447-3691.