The Montezuma County Board of Commissioners has upheld additional regulations for septic systems in the county, despite efforts by one commissioner to revoke them.
After a hearing April 2, the commissioners voted 3-0 to approve a county Health Department request for additional oversight and inspections for on-site wastewater treatment systems.
The new rules are intended to prevent pollution from failing septic systems and protect the public and water sources, said Melissa Mathews, the county’s environmental health specialist.
They include more regular oversight for new systems and create a program that requires inspections of septic systems when a property is sold, which could result in corrective actions.
The oversight program is set to start in May, and the transfer of property inspection program will begin in January 2019. The new title transfer program that inspects septic systems before a property is sold targets older designs that may be failing and need repair. A new fee system will be implemented to help cover costs.
Since 2004, the county has required that septic systems be designed by a certified engineer. Mathews said older systems have a higher risk of failure, a situation that is happening in the county.
“We want to ensure they are working adequately,” Mathews said.
The new regulations also 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, in 2017 there were 12 recorded septic failures in the county, six of which were installed before 1972. In 2018, there have been 13 septic failures, three of which were installed before 1972.
The new septic regulations also will provide critical information for property buyers in the county, Mathews said.
Inspectors will look for obvious evidence of septic failure, such as waste and water above ground. The type of tank and whether the system is adequate for the size of the home or business also will be reviewed.
“A lot of systems may be failing, and people are not aware,” Mathews said.
Typical failures for older systems include leaking tanks, waste liquids from the leach field back up into the tank. The owners pump the tank, and it fills again.
The Health Department will educate real estate agents, banks and title companies about the new septic regulations.
Commissioner Larry Don Suckla made the original motion to adopt the new regulations, but said Monday he regretted it because he believes they infringe on property rights.
“I ran on limited government and property rights,” he said. He made a motion to reverse the regulation’s approval, but it died for lack of a second.
Suckla opposes the additional inspection fee when a property is sold, and said he needed more proof that failed septic systems were impacting neighboring property owners.
“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.”
Health Department officials responded that the new rules are a prevention measure, a key aspect of public health policy.
Commissioners Keenan Ertel and James Lambert disagreed with Suckla and said they felt the new regulations were appropriate, noting that they have seen open sewage flowing into ditches.
“I think it is a health issue and affects families,” Ertel said. “It is sad state of affairs when government has to mandate (adequate septic systems), but it is not overstepping the bounds.”