On December 3, 2009 an update and preliminary position paper on a possible program to regulate septic tanks tributary to Devils Lake was sent to the Lincoln City Mayor’s office and each of the City Council members from David Hawker Manager of Lincoln City. The document’s stated goal is to “Examine means to reduce pollution in Devils Lake from faulty septic systems.”
The City’s primary means to accomplish this goal is Section 13.12.050 (B2) of the Lincoln City Municipal Code. More specifically
“The city may reduce the quantity of water supplied by the service or entirely discontinue the service at any time, on a temporary or permanent basis, and by area or areas or by customer or classes of customers, in accord with such policies as the city may establish from time to time by ordinance or resolution adopted by the city council.”
The document describes the reasons for this action. Devils Lake Water Improvement District provided the information justifying the creation of a Septic Revitalization Program. The District references the 1998 placement of Devils Lake on the EPA 303(d) list where we enjoy plenty of company as it took 288 pages to list impaired water bodies in Oregon alone. Also referenced is a 29-year-old study identifying septic tanks as contributing 25% of the nitrogen and up to 14% of the phosphorus in the lake. The referenced study was amended in 1982 because “upon examination of the water quality data collected, it was concluded that additional water sampling was necessary to fill in data missing during the high recreational summer and autumn use periods”. This second study performed by the DEQ suggests that excessive Fecal Coliform measurements attributed to septic systems were limited to samples taken near Thompson Creek.
The City Manager believes there is sufficient scientific and anecdotal information that septic systems are part of the problem. He feels the City has a responsibility to act. Fortunately the memo identifies several options that would likely receive the support of lakefront residents, including;
Further Investigation – In spite of extensive water sampling, it is difficult to prove how much of the lake pollution is from malfunctioning septic systems. Presumably, with considerable investment, a more sophisticated testing program could be designed that would be more definitive. The City currently does not have funding for this.
It should be noted that, DLWID has concluded its 2009 monitoring season for E. coli with 5 of 8 sites meeting or exceeding DEQ standard on all 19 sample dates. Of those that failed only one, Thompson Creek failing 17 sample dates, was associated with human development that may be related to septic systems. More testing including DNA analysis would be required. The DLWID board has authorized a study to develop a 2010 nutrient budget for Devils Lake, which in part would attempt to provide an estimate of the amount of nutrient loading caused by septic systems. The RFP for this study has been published, bids were due by November 4, 2009.
Education / Voluntary – The City could fund a program that encourages property owners to get proper maintenance from private contractors or a periodic inspection from the County. It could also encourage citizens to file complaints with the County where evidence improper function or discharge appears likely. These complains may be made confidentially, and it is my understanding that the County must respond.
Voluntary Inspection W/Funding – Possibly over time, the City could get grants to fund voluntary inspections. This is what Eugene Water and Electric (EWEB) is doing, and The City has an extensive report on their program. It would likely take one additional full time employee to obtain and administer the grant, provide the education, and operate the program. There is no existing funding for the City administration of such a program, or to provide matching funds for a grant. Possibly this could be done by a water surcharge on the affected properties.
The preliminary recommendation of the City is to should begin that legislative process which would include public and agency comment on a specific proposal, development of a draft ordinance, and a public hearing with notice to the affected owners.
In brief, outline form the City’s proposal looks like this:
- Require all properties that receive water from the City that border the lake to have a first inspection within five years, with one fifth being completed each of the next five years. Properties that have had septic system installed and approved by Lincoln County within the last five years would be exempt from this initial requirement.
- The inspection would be done by the County for their normal fee paid for by the property owner. The City would retain the right to designate other capable inspectors should the County not be able to handle the workload, or meet our requirements.
- If the property did not have the inspection, they would be subject to discontinuation of water service, or if in the city, a fine and/or discontinuation of water service.
- The regulation would end after the initial five years, and presumably be followed by one strongly influenced by the results of the inspections. It could resume with a periodic rotation, or be replaced by one that looks at a larger perimeter. At the extreme, it could require inadequate systems to be replaced with advanced systems.
The following materials are available for download for your review.