Guest Editorial: Mark Williams, Water Quality Program Coordinator, Boulder County Public HealthWastewater treatment can be a significant household expense, whether you’re paying sewer bills within a municipality or sewer district, or constructing and maintaining your own on site system. We understand that the inspection and repair of a septic system can seem complex and costly, especially when juggling the stresses of work, family, and home construction.
Although it may seem like a recent development, Boulder County Public Health has been concerned with and permitting septic systems since 1958. As a steward of Boulder County, it is our responsibility to protect the health of our residents and visitors.
Bacteria and other pollutants pose a serious risk when they leak into our waterways from failing, unapproved, and aging septic systems. In fact, the 1998 and 2000 National Water Quality Inventory Reports to Congress list septic systems as the second most frequently cited source of groundwater contamination (the first is leaking underground storage tanks).
The combined impacts of aging and unapproved septic systems, especially in dense clusters and close to water resources, present an increased risk to those water resources that are becoming more and more important to protect for future generations. Without a permit and final inspection, we cannot verify that systems are adequately treating sewage before reaching Boulder County’s waterways.
After hearing from the community and investigating possible ways to make sure systems are safe while also considering the cost of repair, we developed the property transfer regulation that went into effect in September 2008. Much like a roof or plumbing inspection, the property transfer regulation aims to protect and inform home buyers by requiring inspection of septic systems prior to them making the significant investment of purchasing a home. We are of the firm belief that a properly permitted and approved septic system provides an added value to a property.
Normal life expectancy for a septic system is 30 years. Many homes in Boulder County were built over 50 years ago and have unapproved septic systems for which we know nothing relative to their construction, and are in a dense area of additional septic systems where neighbors rely on groundwater for their drinking water supply. It is incumbent upon us to do the best that we can to protect the neighborhood and everyone downstream (and that’s everyone in Boulder County and east of our county line).
With the goal of approving all existing septic systems in Boulder County by 2023, we have begun to contact residents in our highest risk areas to begin the process of getting these systems approved. Our motivation is not to displace people from their homes, but to ensure that wastewater is adequately treated in order to protect the community and the environment. We remain committed to working personally with residents toward that objective.
We welcome your questions and comments about any septic system issues. Please call Boulder County Public Health at 303-441-1564. More information is also available on our website at SepticSmart.org.