Positive peer pressure

By Jenn Watt

Published Feb. 19 2019

The staff working on Dysart’s septic reinspection program have a challenge ahead of them this year as they attempt to stay on schedule.

At the most recent environment committee meeting members heard that only 28 per cent of properties in the first area in the program had completed the requirements: a full pump-out of their septic system and inspection.

Area one includes Kennisis Lake Little Kennisis Lake and Paddys Bay.

About 700 still need to be done and in order to stay on schedule all of them need to happen in 2019 before Dysart shifts its focus to area two including several more lakes and a three-year timeline.

There’s no time for delay. The structure of the reinspection schedule is already lengthy; the last area to be inspected will be complete at the end of 2030. That’s a lot of time for a lot of damage to be done.

A malfunctioning septic system can contribute to a decline in lake health in some cases creating the conditions for toxic blue-green algae which makes the water unusable while it’s present.

Karl Korpela the chief building official said he hadn’t heard negative feedback but was concerned that so few had gone through the process and presented alternatives to councillors about what could be done. Ultimately the decision was made to stay the course and continue promoting the program.

One of the more intriguing suggestions at the meeting came from home inspector Mike Rahme who brought with him a piece of “positive peer pressure” – a sign that reads: “We’ve done our part! Septic inspection completed.” He suggested the signs would be planted in the lawns of homes and cottages that had undergone the inspection which would encourage other residents to do it too.

The committee didn’t go into the logistics of producing the signage and it’s not clear whether councillors were interested in adding such a campaign to the program.

But if uptake continues to lag it might be a good idea to attempt some kind of positive peer pressure.

During the recent American midterm elections social media was abuzz with photos of citizens emerging from the polling booths with “I voted” stickers. In Vancouver’s municipal election last October they did the same with the Vancouver Courier reporting “people were loving the bright pink ‘I voted’ stickers. Some tweeted they ‘voted just for the sticker’ while others colour coordinated the sticker to their outfit.”

If it works for voting could it work for lake health?

It’s likely that a good portion of those who haven’t yet done their inspections have been putting it off. Maybe they’re worried about what the inspector will find. Maybe they just have so little time at the lake as it is they aren’t keen to book an inspection at the same time.

Could minds be changed or memory jogged if signs started popping up at the end of their neighbours’ driveways? Maybe even something as unobtrusive as a sticker or ribbon on a mailbox?

It’s worth a try. Of the 279 systems checked last year 17 needed to be entirely replaced.

To preserve lake health we need as much buy-in as we can get.