Council Votes On Septic Plan

This article appeared in the News Guard reporting on the March 8th City Council meeting.  As the article reports it is our understanding that the City Attorney must still draft the ordinance and that the DLWID will hold at least one public meeting on the matter once a draft ordinance is made available for review.

By Patrick Alexander
The News Guard
3/10/2010 5:00:00 AM

A septic system inspection program with water shut-off as the ultimate penalty for non-compliance is set to become law after Lincoln City Council approved the approach at its March 8 meeting.

Details of the program will be decided later this year through a process that will include public hearings but both Council and the Devils Lake Water Improvement District (DLWID) board of directors have agreed on the main points:

  • The program will require all 632 properties with septic systems within the Devils Lake watershed to have an inspection every 10 years.
  • Properties whose systems are seen as being most at risk of failure, due to age or the type of tank used, will be top priorities for inspection.
  • The City will contract with a private operator to do the inspections, with individual property owners footing the bill.
  • Septic tanks will be pumped only if the inspector deems it beneficial to the system.

The program would require that the inspector report any failing septic system to the County, which would then be obliged under state law to work with the property owner to address the problem, at the property owner’s expense.

Councilor Chester Noreikis opposed the compulsory approach and asked his colleagues to consider a voluntary inspection program instead.

He said a softer approach would allow the City to gather data upon which to base future decisions.

“We do not have any data regarding failing septic systems in the Devils Lake watershed,” he said. “No data on which are failing and no data on which are functioning properly. We do not know if we have a ‘problem’ that needs to be ‘fixed.'”

Noreikis said using the threat of water shut-off as “a very large hammer” would give the public more reason to mistrust, resent or hate government.

Instead, he proposed that DLWID pay for sanitary surveys for any interested watershed property owners.

The survey would consist of an inspector looking at the septic set-up, checking for telltale odors and using a dye to test whether systems are discharging sewage directly into the lake.

City Manager David Hawker said he feared a voluntary program would mirror the experience of the Eugene Water and Electric Board, which, in 2008 and 2009, offered free inspections to 750 septic tank owners in its service area and had just 309 takers.

Councilor Gary Ellingson supported the mandatory inspection plan, saying the City has a duty to tackle pollution in the lake, which is listed as an impaired waterway by the Environmental Protection Agency.

He drew attention to the fact that a functioning septic system traps 80 to 90 percent of phosphorous, one of the nutrients that fuels the lake’s annual blooms of cyanobacteria.

However, Councilor Dick Anderson pointed out that best estimates show septic tanks are responsible for just 14 percent of the total amount of phosphorous in the lake.

Anderson also pointed out that septic systems do little to trap nitrogen, the other main nutrient associated with cyanobacteria growth.

Best estimates indicate septic systems are responsible for 25 percent of the nitrogen that flows into the lake.

“That’s not going to change with this proposal,” Anderson said, adding that Noreikis’ plan presented a better first step.

Hawker said failing septics also pump bacteria such as E. coli into the lake, something he said could trigger a federal lawsuit if linked to deaths of endangered Coho salmon.

Mayor Lori Hollingsworth said the City should do what it can to cut the amount of pollution entering the lake even if it cannot address all pollutants.

She pointed out that state law already requires septic system owners to keep their systems in working order but does not provide an enforcement mechanism.

The EPA recommends septic systems should be inspected at least every three years.

Hollingsworth, Ellingson and Councilors Rick Brissette and Sharon Cannon voted in favor of mandatory inspections, directing staff to draft an ordinance that the City can enforce with limited resources.

1 Comment

Filed under City, Septic

One response to “Council Votes On Septic Plan

  1. Phillip R Haueter

    After reading this current news on the Septic System proposal, all I can say is what a joke!! (a bad one at that)!!
    There is no real data that proves one way or another that the Devil’s Lake Homeowner is responsible for the pollution problem.
    If we throw out science and facts, the debate
    basically becomes A MATTER OF OPINION!!!
    So here is a few (facts)we can rely on:

    Motorized boats and their owners do not have any impact on this problem.

    Constant dredging of the lake bottom has no effect.

    Runoff water from clearcuts and new housing in the surrounding areas, as well as next to tributaries that eventually feed into the lake, have no impact.

    Acid rains, somehow, don’t fall over the lake itself, and if they did they don’t contain any phosphorous, nitrogen or sulphur. Of course, the acid rains that hit the rest of Oregon would never drain into the lake!

    History also shows that no roads around the lake ever were treated with oil or petroleum products.

    There is absolutly NO fertilizers,herbicides, or pesticides used anywhere by any homeowner in the Devils Lake area.Fertilizers do not contain any sulphur, nitrogen, or phosphorous.

    The nearby Devil’s Lake Golfcourse in it’s history does not, and has never, used any fertilizers,herbicides,pesticides or chemicals in the treatment of their course.

    So, since the above could be stated as fact, (based on opinions), the city council is right to victimize us lowly homeowners.

    However,having had a family home on the lake for 41 years, I see a different side of this issue.
    Historically speaking, this is not a NEW problem. Could the water pollution have been avoided if that same council many years ago,took action that they were advised on, and proposed a sewer line?
    It’s not too late, but now,it will be a lot more expensive!!!
    The first step should be some testing to establish what the problem is and what it’s relevant sources are.
    In the historical perspective, the entire community surrounding the Devil’s Lake Area, and poor management by government over the years, have caused this problem, and therefore should be addressed by everyone as a public issue.
    While our city council has found us to pick on, they could have been doing something effective.They could have easily passed ordinances that would have had an immediate impact on any more pollution being added.

    Ban fertilizer,herbicide and pesticide use in the greater area around Devils Lake including the golfcourse!!! There are organic and safe alternatives.

    Ban All detergents and home products that contain phosphorous or sulfides that easily enter the lake.

    And yes, call for mandatory inspections of operating systems that are too old or visually questionable.Inspections that can be done by any certified inspector, not just the city’s choice.
    I think the council is trying to pass the buck to us and when we pay up, we benefit some of their friends!!
    Our solution should involve everyone concerned and should be something that is good for the future as well!
    If, after establishing the necessary data,
    we are found guilty as charged then maybe it would be time to propose a sewer system build!!!

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