New septic system regulations under the Montezuma County Health Department kicked in Jan. 1.
Under the Transfer of Title program, when a residential or commercial property meets certain criteria, an inspection of its on-site wastewater septic system will take place when the property is being sold, and repairs or replacement may be required.
The new rules are intended to prevent pollution from failing septic systems and protect the public and water resources, said Melissa Mathews, environmental health specialist for the health department.
The criteria triggering a septic system inspection when a title is transferred include: Structures older than 1974 that do not have a on-site waste water permit; properties that had a permit issued 20 years ago or longer; properties that have a higher level treatment system; properties that have had a previous septic system failure; properties that have a valid septic permit but no structure.
In April, county commissioners approved the Environmental Health Department’s request for additional oversight and inspections for on-site wastewater treatment systems.
“The whole goal of the program is to upgrade old, decrepit and nonfunctioning septic systems,” commissioner Keenan Ertel said Monday during a county Board of Health meeting. The commissioners act as the Board of Health and meet quarterly with Health Department officials.
Mathews said her staff have created the forms, procedures and enforcement plans for the new program.
“We have been meeting with lenders, title companies, property owners and Realtors to educate people on the requirements,” she said.
It applies to new sale contracts started this year for properties that meet the criteria.
The seller fills out the first two pages of a Transfer of Title form, which includes recording septic information such as age, maintenance, type, operations and location. The seller or buyer hire a certified National Association of Wastewater Technician to conduct the inspection and fill out that portion of the form.
The inspector records observations such as the type and condition of the septic system, tank and leach field, and indicates whether it’s an adequate size for the number of residents in a home.
The seller returns the form with the completed inspection to the environmental health department for review. If it is determined that repairs or replacement are needed, the seller obtains repair permits from the health department for the work.
It is up to the seller and or buyer to complete the work within 90 days, but the deadline can be extended up to one year. If there is an imminent health hazard to the public, residents or livestock, the seller is required to complete repairs immediately.
Once repairs are made, or if none are needed, the Health Department issues an acceptance letter.
If repairs are not made, a Notice of Violation is issued, which could result in fines or cease-and-desist orders.
Repairs and permits have costsIf the septic system requires repairs or replacement, then the seller must obtain and pay for a permit from the county health department to correct the problem. The seller and/or buyer also pay for the costs of the repairs or replacement once the permits are obtained.
For a major repair, the permit costs $275 for a residential system and $325 for a commercial one. For a minor repair, the permit costs $50 for residential and $100 for commercial.
If a system has failed to the point it can’t be repaired, a new engineered system is required, and a new septic system permit must be obtained.
For a new residential septic system, the permit costs $400. For a new commercial septic system, the permit is $445.
The costs of the repairs can vary from hundreds of dollars for minor issues to thousands of dollars for a replaced system that needs a new tank and leach field.
Mathews said enforcement and regulation procedures are done by the Health Department and do not involve title companies, real estate agents or lenders. She emphasized that the new program will be a learning process for the Health Department and property owners.
“Implementation will be done with courtesy and patience,” she said.
When a property that meets the criteria is sold that does not go through the appropriate process, letters will be sent out, and timelines set for action and compliance.
Inspections may require that a septic tank be pumped to determine whether it is water-tight. If an inspection cannot take place at the point of sale because of winter conditions, it can be rescheduled.
Common indicators of a failed system are sewage odors in house or yard, backed-up plumbing, slow-draining sinks and toilets, water and waste surfacing in the leach field, broken distribution box and a leaking tank.
“Paying for the costs of repairs, permits and upgrades can be a negotiation between the seller and the buyer in the contract,” Mathews said.
She advises property owners to pump out tanks every six years to remove sludge and prolong the system’s life. Another tip is to avoid irrigating on top of the leach field.
The new regulations provide the Health Department an opportunity to locate and inspect older systems put in before 1974, when the county began issuing septic system permits.
According to Health Department data, six of the 12 septic systems that failed in 2017 had been installed before 1972. In 2018, three of the more than 13 systems that failed had been installed before 1972.
Montezuma County Commissioner Larry Don Suckla opposed the new septic regulations after initially voting for it. He said he was concerned about additional regulations and fees for selling properties and that he needed proof that failed septic systems impacted neighbors.
“When a septic backs up, a property owner is going to fix it. They don’t need government to tell them that,” he said. “A buyer already usually requires that a septic system be inspected.”