A Watershed Moment: Lack of Statewide Septic Regulatory Laws Currently Producing a Stinky Mess

On the June 21st episode of “A Watershed Moment,” Nick Occhipinti, WMEAC Director of Policy and Community Activism, speaks about the negative  environmental impacts of improperly maintained septic systems.

An example of a septic system. Photo courtesy of infiltratorsystems.com.

Septic systems are a means for human waste to be stored on the site of a residential or comercial residential property.

But, what most people don’t realize is that septic systems were not designed for permanent use. They were a temporary fix until the property could be hooked up to city water supply.

Folks that move from the city to the suburbs might not even realize they now have a septic system. They just assume they are still connected to the city water system. Without this knowledge, they are not maintaining their waste disposal system for the number of people in the household, nor getting the system pumped on a regular basis.

Septic systems can fail when the drainfields become saturated with septage or rainwater, if a residence is using too much water for the size of their unit or simply because the system is degrading with age. They were not built, after all, to be a permant solution to the waste removal problem.

Lack of septic mantainance is causing one MILLION gallons/day to be leaked into our groundwater!

This causes a variety of sanitation and public health problems, including:

  • an increase of harmful bacteria, nitrates and phosphates in the water supply,
  • higher presence of algal blooms in the lakes and
  • a marked decrease in the local water quality.

Unfortunately, Michigan is the only state without laws governing the mantainance of septic systems. There are a few counties in Michigan with regulatory laws and ordinances, but Kent County does not.

We encourage you to contact the Kent County Comissioner, specifically, the Septic Sub-Committee to let them know of the growing concern of the safety and cleanliness of our waters. This is a basic infrastructure issue that needs to be resolved. Ask them to protect local health by keeping septic waste out of the water.

Also, contact our State Representatives (Senate and House Members) to ask them to make regulation of septic systems a Michigan law.

Septic systems should be pumped every 3-5 years and checked for signs of failure. Check your system to find out when the last time it was pumped and inspected for leaks. You won’t be sorry.

Failed septic system back-up. Photo Courtesy of sharedwaters.net

Read more on the increasing concern about problematic septic systems here.

Great Lakes Echo provides a look at failing septic systems and the buying and selling of houses.

“A Watershed Moment” is a weekly radio program focused on environmental news and happenings in West Michigan, plus solutions for living a greener life.

Broadcast on WYCE-FM 88.1 on Tuesdays: 8:30am and 5:30pm, this program is produced by Grand Rapids Community Media  Center and the West Michigan Environmental Action Council.

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