County will soon require homeowners to certify their septic systems are in good condition

King County, concerned about the impact failing septic systems have on Puget Sound, is about to require homeowners to certify their septics are in good order when their property changes hands, county officials say.

Previously, homeowners simply had to get their septics pumped when they sold their homes, said Larry Fay, community environmental health manager of the Seattle King County Health Department.

But officials believe King County may be home to as many as 20,000 septic systems built before the county started creating records or built without permits, he said.

A recently passed state law requires counties to figure out where all the septic systems in their jurisdiction are located, identify the ones that are failing and order homeowners to get them repaired, Fay said.

The county opted to go this route — have homeowners identify the septics, show where they’re located and submit or create what’s called “as-built” specifications when the property changes hands — because it makes some sense, Fay said.

“We can’t systematically go out and knock on doors,” he said. “So we said, ‘Let’s pick up information when property changes hands. Let’s require a detailed operation and maintenance evaluation.’

“And if it’s an old system with no record,” he added, “they’ll have to gather information about the location and condition of the system and generate an as-built record.”

The new approach will have an impact on Vashon, home to approximately 4,000 septic systems, said Steve Graham, an Islander active on septic issues. And while he supports the county’s attempt to get a handle on the septic situation, he said he worries about the details of what might feel like an onerous and difficult new regulation.

“I think they’re taking important steps in the right direction. The Sound is more and more polluted,” he said.

“But fairness, equity, cost, who’s going to do it, the complicated problems of people who have to do the work – it’s not clear that this approach will turn out roses,” Graham added.

Homeown-ers with particularly old septic systems will struggle with complying with the new regulations, Graham added.

“Some homeowners don’t even know where their systems are,” he said.

It will be particularly hard on Vashon, Graham added, where there’s currently only one person who’s licensed to maintain septic systems.

But over time, Graham said, the new regulations could help to address what he acknowledged has long been a problem for the county.

“Knowledge will start to emerge about what’s going on with septics around here. And people who are sitting on dubious septic systems won’t be able to get away with it anymore,” he said.

Fay said he knows the new approach will be difficult for some homeowners, particularly those with old systems and no records. But the county intends to phase the system in and help homeowners as much as it’s able.

“We don’t expect that everyone will be on board on Day One,” he said. “There will have to be some education and outreach and ramping up”

“Our objective is protecting, preserving and restoring Puget Sound,” he added. “This is just one of the many tools out there and available.”

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