County septic code approval delayed

The Clallam County Board of Health may approve a draft on-site septic code in July, but county staff and a team of stakeholders likely will need more time to organize a launch date for its mandates, such as septic inspections and professional licensing, before citizens will be required to begin reporting their systems’ status.

The board read over the draft code and took comments from the public during its June 17 meeting but delayed taking any action on the potential regulation until July.

The code, written by county staff based on input from a task force of stakeholders, is required by the state to track the inspections and maintenance of on-site septic systems in the county.

While some parameters of the code are set in state law, others were left to the county to identify, which is why county Environmental Health director Andy Brastad formed the stakeholder group.

“For a public hearing on a septic policy that has been highly contentious across the state to only have a handful of people speak against it speaks a lot to the public process used to create the code,” Washington State Board of Heath executive director Craig McLaughlin said.

In attendance at the board meeting were McLaughlin, state board member Dr. Diana Yu and several concerned citizens.

“Clallam County is running a little late beyond the Legislature’s deadline,” McLaughlin said. “While they are not out front, they are definitely not the only one working on the honor system, so to speak, and it’s encouraging to see the involved public process that has taken place to get the code to where it is today.”

The state is requiring septic system inspections as part of an overall effort to clean up Puget Sound. State agencies have identified failing septic systems as one of many nonpoint-source polluters; others include the excess use of fertilizers or untreated stormwater runoff, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA reports about 2 percent of existing septic systems are failing nationwide and a recent analysis by Kitsap County yielded similar results, according to Brastad.

Rex Abbott, a member of the audience, spoke to the board, stating the problem of failing septic systems is too small to have a mandate for inspections of all systems, which are required every three years for gravity-fed systems and annually for all others.

“Speaking from experience, I can say inspections don’t do anything for quality,” Abbott said, indicating the required frequencies of inspections were too demanding.

“Quality is in the design and installation. We should dedicate time and money to education and to bail people out of trouble when their systems do fail.”

Bradstad stood at the podium nodding back at Abbott.

“I totally agree,” he said, indicating the county has no say in inspection frequencies. “Which is why we’re always taking new ideas of how to institute this state mandate in the most comfortable way for the people.”

Brastad said he and the septic group will need to continue working on how the code will be instituted in the county after its passage, indicating a launch date would be much later than the approval date.

“It’s all about capacity,” he said. “Once a version of the code is adopted, we will determine a certification process for professionals, figure out how homeowners will be trained and then start some sort of pilot project with a few people reporting on their systems on whatever tracking system we have in place, which will ideally be automated and online.”

The septic team is scheduled to meet again toward the end of the summer to begin fine tuning the code and how it will be instituted.

Brastad wants to keep costs down, since the state mandate is unfunded. But the county will need to dedicate some funds to the formation of a database to store and track the information as well as to an individual to coordinate the program.

“We have a consultant looking into the best ways to fund the project,” he said. “Capacity will also determine to what degree we will do quality control checks.”

Brastad said the county continues to search for grant money, such as the $15,000 that paid for six septic classes that will license up to 140 individuals.

Sequim Realtor Michael McAleer, also a septic team member, said he hopes to see all future grant money used to help fixed-income citizens become certified to check their own septics, freeing up the industry to do the professionally required inspections.

“I’m not sure if there are going to be enough professionals ready to do these inspections, which means the costs will go up,” he said.

While homeowners generally can inspect their own systems, the code requires professionals to do the first inspections of homes in the Marine Recovery Area, which includes the Sequim, Carlsborg and Diamond Point areas, after which homeowners can begin doing self-inspections. Professionals also must inspect homes that are being sold.

The draft septic code and minutes for the workgroup’s meetings are available online at

“I’m not sure if there are going to be enough professionals ready to do these inspections, which means the costs will go up.”

— Mike McAleer, septic team member

The next Clallam County Board of Health meeting, where board members likely will take a final look at approving a draft of a pending on-site septic code, will occur at 1:30 p.m. July 15 in the Clallam County commissioners boardroom in the Clallam County Courthouse, 223 E. Fourth St. in Port Angeles.

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