Ohio’s New Septic Rules Take Effect Jan. 1

Ohio homeowners with septic systems will face new statewide rules on Jan. 1. The new regulations expand county health officials’ authority to require homeowners with bad systems to make repairs or upgrades. However, each county is handling it differently.

Mahoning County will finalize their rules within the next few months. Trumbull County decided to allow grandfathering of septic systems to remain outside of a mandatory reporting requirement for now. Erie County’s health department plans to ask about 1,300 owners of residential septic systems to pay a $45 annual fee and submit to annual inspections.

In Wood County, county environmental health staff plan to implement a public database to track failing systems, permits, inspections and correction plans. Brad Espen, Wood County’s environmental health director said in a Sentinel-Tribune article, “Ohio has the most outdated rules in the United States when it comes to septic systems, a problem that’s surely contributed to the failing health of Lake Erie.”

A Youngstown, Ohio paper, The Vindicator reported, “Even one of the bigger ‘required’ items allows flexibility—the one requiring boards of health to establish rules governing maintenance and maintenance-reporting. Each board of health will decide how quickly to require all septic owners to begin reporting system maintenance.

“In all cases, county boards of health say this is an opportunity to educate all septic owners to the need to have septic tanks pumped out every three to five years and to correct problems such as missing or broken components.

“Rebecca Fugitt, the top ODH official who works with septic systems, said Ohio legislators felt changes were necessary to address septic systems that are not being maintained properly and therefore putting contaminants into the community.”

However, some are not happy with the new requirements and fear that it will force them to hook up to sewer lines, pay fines or replace their system.

The Ohio Department of Health sets the story straight with a helpful website on rumors vs. facts. “Don’t let rumors lead you into expensive repairs and unnecessary sewage system replacements. Ohio’s new sewage rules will NOT require everyone in the state to automatically replace their septic system.

“The new sewage rules are going into place for several reasons:
• They haven’t been updated since 1977
• While some counties have modernized their own rules since then, other counties have not.
These rules will set a minimum standard for Ohio homeowners so you can be assured that
your neighbor’s system is not leaking sewage into your yard, or the ponds, lakes and other
waterways that you and your family enjoy.

Rumor: No septic systems will be grandfathered in. If you system was installed before 1974 you will have to replace it.
Fact: You can keep your system as-is as long as there’s not sewage on the top of the ground, missing parts/pieces or backup in your home.

Rumor: The Ohio Department of Health Report says nearly 1/3 (31 percent) of all septic systems in Ohio are failing.
Fact: If a system is “failing” it could indicate a number of problems, but this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have to replace the entire system to meet the standards in the new rules or the existing state laws- it could just mean replacing missing or broken parts or adding treatment.

Rumor: This will cost you hundreds of dollars in fees every year.
Fact: The state will charge up to $75 to install a new system, $34 dollars to alter a system and $0 to get an operation permit. You usually end up paying a little more than that because local health departments also need to charge fees to run these programs (staff, training, etc.). Getting your operation permit could be as easy as taking a receipt to your local health department that shows you hired a registered company to pump your septic tank. Local health districts set the amount and length of the operation permit which will vary between one and ten years.

Rumor: You’ll have to use new, expensive technology instead of traditional septic systems.
Fact: The new rules offer a wide range of technology when it is time to install, replace or alter. In many cases you can still install traditional technology.

Rumor: Leach fields are no longer an option.
Fact: Septic tank/leach field systems are still allowed under the new rules and are the preferred system where soil conditions are good.

With any luck, the new rules will have a positive impact on the environment and only a small impact on homeowner budgets.

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