The Goal of Proper Onsite Maintenance is in Our Grasp

Don’t let septic system users become pennywise and pound foolish by fighting mandated inspections

Nobody argues when you promote the concept of cleaner water and the proper handling of wastewater. Folks are supportive of making sure the water we drink is safe and that onsite systems carry household wastewater away so we never have to smell it or see it. 

But if how we ensure safe water and wastewater systems starts to cost a little money, well, that’s a different story. Then, suddenly the issue isn’t quite as universally important as we thought it was. 

For example, when the majority of the Warren County, New York, Board of Supervisors recently expressed support for a proposal to require onsite inspections for properties located within 250 feet of several pristine lakes, online readers at the newspaper were quick to object. 

“This is only the beginning of the environmental overreach by the county … Who knows when will it end? This is only the start of the elite class enforcing their will on a local population that prefers minimal government intrusion,” wrote one reader. 

“I totally support less pollution, cleaner waterways, etc. I am suspect, however, with the county board of supervisors’ proposal of ‘septic inspections.’ Whenever a government entity singles out one faction of a problem for ‘enforcement,’ it usually involves an underlying agenda. I’m sure septic pollution into our waterways does exist … the scope of which is difficult to determine because it is unseen,” writes another. 


In this same area of upstate New York, the Lake George Park Commission is promoting what I would consider a very reasonable mandated inspection program for 3,400 properties in what is deemed the most sensitive areas surrounding Lake George. A working committee of the commission is eyeing an estimated $50 annual fee to cover the cost of a septic inspection. A pumpout would also be required every five years, with that cost presumably covered by the property owner. 

“I see a regulation in the future that’s going to be adopted by everybody. The only person who will be bothered by this will be the one who says, ‘What septic system are you talking about?’” Commissioner Ken Parker was quoted in the local Times Union newspaper. Added the commission’s executive director, Dave Wick, “We are trying to do the right thing to be protective of the lake and not overly burdensome on the regulated public.”

Certainly there is a good-sized upfront cost for decentralized wastewater treatment — and doubtless that cost keeps rising with inflation, higher labor costs and better treatment technologies employed. But folks stick their heads in the sand mound if they think these systems should operate effectively with no ongoing maintenance. 

Installers know that homeowners who ignore their systems will pay for that neglect in the long run. If users don’t empty the sludge, clean filters, inspect pumps and pipes on a regular basis, these expensive systems will ultimately fail. And we know all too well that many perturbed septic system owners will blame the installer or the components used for the failure. 


It’s always a difficult conversation to explain the many root causes of the abuse that led to system failure. Those often include ignoring recommended maintenance, putting the wrong things down the household drains, such as fats, grease, wipes, etc., and overuse of systems by adding rooms or permanent residents to the house without considering changing treatment capacity needs. 

Placing the blame squarely where it belongs can be a fruitless endeavor. If they hear you, they may not believe you. And they are more likely not to hear you — just like when they ignored your usage instructions when their systems were installed. 

One way to encourage onsite users to accept required or voluntary maintenance programs is to stress the value they received from decentralized wastewater treatment. That’s what public health officials in Mahoning County in Ohio are doing now as they enact local maintenance programs to comply with 2015 state of Ohio updated onsite regulations. 

As spelled out by the health department, Mahoning County residents will be charged between $30 and $125 per year to obtain permits for their onsite systems. The Level 1 maintenance fee of $30 is for owners of a conventional septic system and the cost goes up with the complexity of the treatment system. The county figures the average cost of pumping once in three years is $350, making a total annual cost for wastewater treatment $146.67, or $12.22 per month. 

Then the county outlines the typical cost of municipal sewer service in Ohio. It states the average household with four residents uses 10,000 gallons of water per month, at a rate of $12.30 per thousand gallons for wastewater treatment. That comes out to a cost of $1,614.60 per year, or $134.55 per month. 


So despite any complaints about mandated inspection and pumping, it’s easy to see that a well-maintained septic system presents a real bargain. And it should be easy to explain the math for your onsite system customers. 

As proven and competent installers and maintenance service providers, you are in the perfect position to deliver this important message to consumers. And don’t be shy about it. After all, I’ll go back to what I said at the beginning. We all want cleaner water and safe wastewater treatment. It’s our job to explain to the layman what it takes to achieve those goals. 


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