What triggers a septic system evaluation?


Did you know, when a property is not connected to a municipal sewer system, it must have an On-Site Sewerage System (private septic system)?

According to Statistics Canada 2011, 14% of households had a private septic system in BC, and due to the massive increase in population density, this number is inferred to be much higher in the 2020s.  Septic systems collect, treat, and disperse to the subsurface, household wastewater.  Unfortunately, a number of these systems are failing or underperforming due to a variety of causes that range from poor maintenance and overuse to a design flaw. A failing system can lead to risks to public health and water resources.

Typically, the concerns and issues regarding a failing septic system appear when you notice signs such as:

  • Slow-moving interior drains in bathtubs and sinks.
  • Bad odors emitting from the septic tank, dispersal field, or drains in your home.
  • Sewage backing up into the house.
  • The dispersal field appears mushy, which can be indicative of sewage breakup

When noticing some of the above listed signs, property owners rush to find a solution for their property.  Sometimes, property owners end up falling in the hands of nonqualified professionals, who provide short term solutions that could result in a high prejudice. Furthermore, the system owner is required by law to retain a Registered Onsite Wastewater Practitioner (ROWP), or Professional Engineer/Geologist, or an Authorized Person (AP) to plan, install and maintain the sewerage system.

To illustrate, the Sewerage System Regulation (SSR) defines the standard practice which drives the method of constructing and maintaining a septic system that will guarantee the system will work appropriately and will not cause a health hazard. The BC Ministry of Health maintains the BC Standard Practice Manual used by the APs.

Another trigger for a septic system evaluation, is a property transaction. For due-diligence, or simply to have a peace of mind, sellers or buyers will be requesting a septic system inspection. In general, the septic system inspection will indicate the location of the septic system, the conditions of the septic system parts, and system functionality. The system inspection will also indicate the need for upgrade or replacement if the septic system is classified as failing

The main steps for a septic system assessment and design, following the SSR standard practice, are:

  • Recognize the use of the property and, if applicable, to determine the pre-existent system conditions.
  • Complete a site characterization; identifying setbacks such as supply well location, closest water sources, etc.
  • Complete a soil characterization.
    1. The soil type and conditions will control the type and size of system will be designed.
  • Compile site specific information, apply system specifications, and complete a system plan. During this phase, the type of the system is determined. There are three types of septic system that are regulated under the SSR:
    1. Type 1- treatment by septic tank only
    2. Type 2– treatment that produces an effluent consistently containing less than 45 mg/L of total suspended solids, and having a 5 day biochemical oxygen demand of less than 45 mg/L. Type two systems consists of a septic tank, treatment unit, and pump chamber, and
    3. Type 3– Treatment that produces an effluent consistently containing less than 10 mg/L of total suspended solids and having a 5-day biochemical oxygen demand of less than 10 mg/L, and a median fecal coliform density of less than 400 Colony Forming Units per 100 mL. Only Professional Engineers/Geologists are authorized to design type 3 systems
  • The design and system information is then filed with the Health Authority. This information submission includes a filing form, plans, specification of the sewerage system, a property site plan, and, when applicable, a hydrogeological report.
  • System installation by an AP
  • System certification with Health Authority

In summary, septic systems are an important wastewater treatment option for homeowners in BC. Keeping your system working properly, following what is required under the SSR, will help to avoid environmental and health issues in your community.

Please contact WES if you have any questions or would like to discuss further.

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