Mandatory septic inspections becoming the norm 

Published August 15 2017

Haliburton County’s municipalities are taking steps to develop septic reinspection plans in order to prevent blue-green algae blooms in the county’s lakes and rivers.

Septic tanks are the leading contributor of phosphorous to lakes in Ontario and phosphorous is the main cause of blue-green algae blooms.

Toxins released by blue-green algae when it blooms can pose serious health risks to humans and animals including fish in the water.

Drinking water affected by the algae can cause nausea headaches and vomiting while bathing in it can cause skin rashes and hay fever-like symptoms.

Despite this Paul MacInnes estimates that only about 40 municipalities in Ontario have policies in place to address septic reinspections.

MacInnes is the chair of the Coalition of Haliburton Property Owners Association (CHA) a group focused on protecting the health of local lakes.

Three of Haliburton’s four municipalities currently have plans in place to enforce some mandatory form of septic reinspection.

MacInnes met with the CHA earlier this summer to discuss the importance of septic reinspection plans.

According to his presentation there are four major types of septic reinspection. Type one only requires paperwork which only determines whether or not the property has a permit.

The second type requires a site visit although the inspector never looks inside the tank.

Type three expects the inspector to take the lid off of the tank during their search while the fourth type calls for the tank to be inspected pumped out then inspected again when it’s empty.

MacInnes and the CHA recommend a type-four approach which he says typically finds 45 to 50 per cent of systems need some form of remediation.

However while he recommends a type-four inspection he says any form of reinspection is a good step forward for a municipality.

“We believe that the problem is so urgent that all four municipalities should be doing a septic reinspection program” he said. “The one that we recommend is number four but we’re happy that three of them are starting.”

Minden Hills has yet to create a reinspection plan but chief building official Colin McKnight says that one is currently in the works and council is currently deciding which type of plan to use and how it would fit into a budget.

Highlands East recently created a mandatory inspection program that will see two engineering students go to each required property and get the resident to complete a survey – a type-two inspection based on McInnes’s standards.

Highlands East chief building official Laurie Devolin said the municipality chose a type-two method because “it’s not intrusive. What we want to know is if there are major issues.”

Devolin said the problem with getting all the septic tanks pumped out – the type-four plan that MacInnes recommends – is that you have to get the septic pumped somewhere.

She added that if properties the municipality surveys are flagged for having substandard tanks they will be pumped.

According to Mayor Carol Moffatt Algonquin Highlands has accepted a reinspection plan from engineering consultant WSP which is scheduled to begin in 2018.

The municipality and WSP are now educating the public on their plan which would see approximately 900 tanks visually reinspected each year. This plan would see inspectors from WSP open each tank and do a detailed visual inspection which would qualify as a type-three inspection by MacInnes’s standards.

Moffatt says Algonquin Highlands’ plan “lets people who are educated qualified and experienced in programs like this see it through to completion.”

Dysart et al’s council and environmental committee has recently supported a type-four inspection plan which would see every waterfront property have their tank inspected when it’s full then inspected after being pumped out.

“It’s really a very thorough approach” said Dysart Reeve Murray Fearrey.

“I think it’s the right thing to do in the long run … If you’re going to do it you should try to do things the best you can.”

Now that this plan has been supported Dysart’s next step is finding a location for a facility where the raw sewage from the pump outs can be inspected and treated.

Fearrey says the town is now doing environmental assessments on its property and also reaching out to the private sector to search for potential locations for the facility.

While MacInnes says the plan Dysart has in place is “identical” to what the CHA recommends he’s happy with the plans of each municipality.

“We’re thrilled with [Dysart’s plan] but we’re also thrilled that Highlands East and Algonquin Highlands and now it looks like Minden Hills are all going to head in that direction. Every journey starts with the first step so we’re really happy that they’re all taking that first step” he said.