By NANCY ALLEN
Mercer County Health Department officials have begun work on
a plan to pinpoint and address problems with failing septic
systems in the county.
Wabash Watershed Alliance Coordinator Lance Schwarzkopf told
WWA board member about the plan during their regular meeting
Officials from the Grand Lake St. Marys Watershed Project, the
nonprofit Lake Improvement Association’s Lake Restoration
Committee and the WWA have been pressuring health department
officials to create the plan as a way to improve water quality
in the Wabash River and Grand Lake St. Marys watersheds. The
plan also is required by Ohio Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) officials in order to get certain watershed grants aimed
at improving water quality as it relates to private septic systems.
Water quality testing done by Ohio EPA officials in 1999 determined
that the Wabash River and Grand Lake St. Marys watersheds are
the most degraded and polluted watersheds in the state. The
Grand Lake St. Marys Watershed is considered part of the larger
Wabash River Watershed because water overflows from the lake
into Beaver Creek, which empties into the Wabash River. Pollution
from failing home septic systems was identified as one of the
sources of pollution in both watersheds, the EPA’s testing
The plan being developed by the health department, called a
Home Sewage Treatment System (HSTS) plan, will point out problems
with installation, prioritize problems and problem areas and
point out solutions for private septic systems. The first big
step in creating such a plan is to do an inventory of all the
private septic systems in the county, something that could take
a lot of man hours and manpower.
Michelle Kimmel, health department director of environmental
health, said her office began work on the HSTS plan last month.
Auglaize County Health Department officials began putting together
an HSTS plan last year at the request of Grand Lake St. Marys
Watershed Coordinator Heather Buck. Buck is helping both health
departments with the plans.
“We are starting to gather some of the initial information
in order to come up with a total number of septic systems in
the county,” Kimmel said. “Once we get that we will
break the numbers down into townships.”
Kimmel said health department officials plan to get a total
on how many households are served by either municipal sewer
systems, county- and privately-maintained package plants and
then subtract that number from the number of households in the
county based on census data. Once officials arrive a total estimated
number of private septic systems, then they will review their
septic permits to look more closely at those issued prior to
“Those systems that are newer and in better condition
can be taken out of the picture and then what we have left would
be our guesstimate on how many are out there that are not in
so great of shape,” Kimmel said.
Kimmel said it will likely take a year or more to complete the
For months Mercer County health department officials have resisted
saying yes to creating the plan, saying it would require more
manpower than their office could supply. Kimmel said they decided
to give it a try with their limited resources.
“In order to do the most accurate job, we would have to
physically visit every home with a private septic system in
the county, but there is no way we can do that,” Kimmel
said. “So we’re going to try to do as much as we
Buck said the HSTS plans for both Auglaize and Mercer counties
are being created based on other HSTS plans already approved
by EPA officials.
Under other business at the WWA meeting, Schwarzkopf reported
that he has applied for a $1,500 Core 3 grant to market and
promote through a newsletter one or more of the four following
conservation methods — conservation tillage practices
such as strip till or no till, crop nutrient management plans
for farmers, weed and pest management plans for farmers and
the installation of conservation buffers (grass filter strips)
near streams or highly erodable areas.
Schwarzkopf said he should know by the end of this month whether
or not the WWA has been approved for the federal grant.
The WWA’s mission is to function as a unified team to
provide education and implement a plan to improve the use of
natural resources in the 121,293-acre Wabash River Watershed.
The group’s primary objective is to improve the water
quality in the Wabash River and in the watershed area that drains
into the river.
WWA members also:
• Authorized Schwarzkopf to submit the necessary paperwork
to the state to apply for nonprofit status for the WWA so that
it can accept outside donations.
• Changed the time for the WWA’s regularly scheduled
meetings to 8 a.m. the third Thursday of each month at the Mercer
County Central Services Building in Celina.
• Reappointed Gary Stein- brunner as chairman and appointed
Oscar Jutte as vice chairman.
• Accepted the evaluation of Schwarzkopf following a 20-minute
executive session held to discuss his job performance.
• Scheduled the next meeting for 8 a.m. Feb. 19 at the
Mercer County Central Services Building.