Septic reinspection program results in remedial action, public awareness
By Sue Tiffin
Of 1,264 septic systems inspected in Algonquin Highlands this year between June and September through the township’s septic re-inspection program, 31 per cent of systems had visible code contraventions and were issued remedial actions.
Katey Sysiuk and Paisley McDowell from WSP Canada Inc. presented a summary of the 2019 septic re-inspection program results to Algonquin Highlands council on Dec. 12 at a regular council meeting.
The 396 septic systems which required a remedial action letter being issued had challenges that include solids occupying or exceeding 33 per cent of the tank volume; trees, bushes, roots or other dense vegetation needing to be removed from the bed area; cracked, broken or missing tank lids; no haulage agreement for Class 5 systems (holding tanks); a metal septic tank or holding tank; or outhouses and composting toilets that weren’t vermin proof. In some cases, properties could have received a remedial action letter for more than one cause.
Participation in the inspection program, which looks at onsite sewage systems for compliance with Section 8.9 of the Ontario Building Code and provides education to system owners in an attempt to “protect lake water, drinking water resources, public health and the environment,” was 97.9 per cent in 2019, according to the presentation by Sysiuk and McDowell.
In their report, WSP Canada Inc. said 66 per cent of systems inspected in 2019, or 840 systems, were in the Class 4 category, those being septic tank and leaching bed systems. Seventeen per cent, or 219 systems, were Class 1, which includes outhouses and composting toilets. Nine per cent, or 109 systems, were categorized as Class 2, being greywater, and eight per cent, or 96 systems, were Class 5 systems, or holding tanks. No Class 3 systems – cesspools – were inspected. In 2019, 57 per cent of systems were 30 or fewer years old, and two per cent were more than 50 years old.
The WSP Canada Inc. representatives said the program is offering public education, including on proper septic maintenance, minimum leaching or filter beds separation distances for drinking water and surface water quality. Seventy-nine surface water samples were collected in 2019, with three samples exceeding the Provincial Water Quality Objective.
“As stewards of lake health, what do we do with this?” asked Mayor Carol Moffatt. “Is it your estimation that the program itself and replacement systems will remediate these kinds of numbers or is there other things that we should be looking at?”
“We feel that public education is a strong way to go with that,” replied McDowell. “It’s home owners’ awareness of not just septic maintenance but, what soaps do you use. Phosphorous comes from a lot of different sources. There’s not a lot of agriculture in this area which is why it’s a good area to do this sort of phosphorous assessment, because septic is one of the, as we estimate, the main contributors.”
McDowell clarified that at this point the team is still connecting data regarding phosphorous and algal bloom risk in the area.
“The results speak to the reason why you do it,” said Moffatt. “It’s good information. The health of the lakes as we’ve said, our entire lifestyle and economy all relies on lake health so it’s good stuff.”
In 2020, the inspection zone will include areas surrounding Big Hawk and Little Hawk Lake, Raven Lake and Oxtongue Lake. WSP plans to issue letters in spring 2020 which include program information as well as a request for property owners to contact WSP to book an inspection date.
According to Sysiuk and McDowell’s presentation, “properties that have metal tanks will be given an opportunity to apply for a permit to replace their tank, and attain exemption from the inspection program.”
The program continues in 2021, and will include inspections of areas that include Kawagama Lake, Livingstone Lake, Fletcher Lake and Crown Lake.
More information about the septic re-inspection program is available at https://www.