By Sean Rice
Mercer County now has a household sewage plan in place, aimed at eliminating septic system pollution through research and homeowner education.
Adoption of the household sewage treatment system (HSTS) plan by the Mercer County/Celina City Board of Health this week coincides with Gov. Bob Taft's enactment of a state law that calls for rules to be created governing septic systems.
The bill containing the new law, Senate Bill 231, takes effect in 90 days and gives state regulatory agencies one year to develop rules for home sewage systems.
The Mercer County HSTS plan acknowledges household septic systems are a great pollution contributor to area watersheds. The document provides a long-range plan to document home sewage systems in preparation for stricter state regulations.
It is also a signal of the health department "becoming more proactive and aggressive in the protection of the residents of Mercer County and the natural resources of the area," the plan states. Michelle Kimmel, director of environmental health for the county, said the document does not include enforcement strategies, such as requiring inspections or other duties of homeowners. It also does not provide funding for seeking out failing systems.
"That may very well be written into the (state) rule anyway," said Kimmel, the primary author of the Mercer County plan.
"It gives leeway to conform to what they want (state officials), instead of us heading down the wrong path," county Sanitarian Chris Miller added.
A major goal of the plan is to develop an inventory of current septic systems in the county. About 39 percent of the approximated 4,872 residential units with septic systems in the county are older than 1973.
The useful life of most septic systems is 30 years. The plan states systems older than 10 years that have not yet received maintenance are also of concern.
"The water quality of Grand Lake St. Marys is a significant health concern due to the fact that it is the primary drinking water source for the city of Celina and serves nearly 11,000 people," the plan states.
The county health department currently issues permits for new septic systems and has an inspection regimen through planning and construction. The department investigates failing systems now only when a complaint is filed. If a homeowner refuses to fix a failing system, the health department has the right to fix the problem and bill the property owners.
Local non-profit and private groups working to eliminate water pollution are hopeful the county HSTS plan will prove beneficial in attracting grants to help property owners replace or repair bad systems.
Untreated or unfiltered human waste finding its way to streams and ditches aids the creation of disease and can contaminate drinking water down the line.
The plan outlines many waterways where septic contamination has been found and wildlife killed as a result.
Thomas Rampe, with the non-profit Lake Improvement Association, told health board members this week the plan is a move in the right direction, because septic systems older that 30 years "are probably our biggest concern."
The only down point, Rampe said, is the plan does not include a system of inspections that require homeowners to perform maintenance and upkeep.