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01-17-04: Officials plan to correct failing septic systems


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 Thursday.
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 showed.
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 1986.
“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 plan.
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 can.”
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.


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