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Heath district hopes to kick in new septic regulations by July 1

The more than 60,000 owners of septic, or on-site sewage systems in Kitsap County will soon be under greater scrutiny from the Kitsap County Health District to have their systems inspected — not that that scrutiny will amount to very much.

Changes to Washington state law will soon require the district to fall in line with a laundry list of regulations pertaining to septic systems. Fortunately, most of the requirements have already been met and the district isn’t anticipating a massive overhaul of current practices.

“The first thing I want you to know is that we’re not making any major changes,” district Director of Environmental Health Jerry Deeter told the board of health on Tuesday.

Deeter’s comments came amid the monthly district board meeting, which focused largely on the impact the new regulations would have on how the district operates.

The biggest change for septic owners will be the frequency with which they’re required to have their systems inspected.

Specifically, older gravity systems within county marine recovery areas will be subject to inspections once every three years, Deeter said. Truly older systems — those installed prior to about 1976 — will likely be tagged as high risk and required to have contact with county operation and maintenance workers on an annual basis.

The state regulations and local standards are in place primarily to track, prevent and correct septic systems that contribute to water contamination and pollution. The biggest risk, perhaps not surprisingly, is water contamination via fecal coliform bacteria. Several streams and bodies of water in the county have already been identified as being contaminated to varying risks.

A report on the overall health of waterways in the county for the 2006-07 biennium is expected sometime in the next few weeks.

Deeter was a member of the state committee that developed the new regulations.

The committee borrowed heavily from Kitsap County’s practices in developing them, he said.

“Every one of our regulations has been at least as stringent or more stringent than state regulations,” Deeter said. “(The state) liked what we were doing here.”

The new regulations spin out of amendments to the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) in 2005 and the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) in 2006.

The district has been following most of the WAC requirements — identifying faulty septic systems, educating homeowners on proper septic system care, etc. — for several years now. The district passed the state’s first operation and maintenance ordinance for septic systems 13 years ago.

Ironically, that kind of foresight could “bite” the district, in a way, as health board Chair Kathryn Quade put it.

Having had pollution identification programs in place for some time now, the district is well aware of where such affected marine areas are and is now on the hook to fix them.

“When you become a leader and an expert in these areas, you start to realize how much you don’t know and how much further you have to go and that’s where we are now,” Director of Health Scott Lindquist said.

The flip side, as several health district officials pointed out at the meeting, is that without monitoring programs, health risks can go unnoticed.

“I would rather know about a problem than just pretend not to have one,” Deeter said.

The next step for the district will be to develop formal marine recovery strategies for their various recovery areas, which they plan to address at the next meeting on June 3.

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