Mandatory septic pump-outs may be eliminated from re-inspection program
By Sue Tiffin
Dysart’s septic re-inspection program could be revised after the municipality’s chief building official said a trial program running since 2017 was proving difficult to manage, and recommended council approve program changes that include eliminating mandatory pump-outs, reducing choice of qualified inspectors, and notifying property owners of inspection dates rather than relying on them to book inspections independently.
“The current septic re-inspection program is not possible to manage in its current form with current staffing levels and other resources beyond our control,” said Karl Korpela, chief building official, in a report to council.
Area 1 in the “level 4” septic re-inspection program included properties on Kennisis Lake and Little Kennisis Lake. That trial ended December 2019.
“Of approximately 964 properties in Area 1, 112 have not complied with the requirement to complete their re-inspection, or failed to submit the third party inspection report,” reads the report by Korpela. “Although this represents only 12 per cent of properties, beyond issuing 112 orders to comply, dealing with even a quarter of these infractions is not possible with our current staffing. Although it may be possible to contract this workload out to a law firm through request for tender, the issues of available court dates to hear such an abundance of matters remains a major concern.”
As the program prepares to move into Area 2, Korpela suggested a revision of the septic re-inspection program through four recommendations: changing the program from a mandatory tank pump-out to sludge/scum measurement, eliminating the required pump-out but still requiring tank lids to be exposed for inspection; requesting for tender a single third party inspector firm, rather than allowing owners to select from a list of 12 qualified inspectors who might then feel obligated to help the owner pass the inspection; notifying owners of inspection dates rather than relying on them to book inspections, allowing for neighbouring systems to be inspected at the same time and including remaining Area 1 properties in the revised septic re-inspection program, scheduling their systems to be inspected first under the revised program.
“The proposed revision to the septic re-inspection program would bring Dysart et al closer in line with the re-inspection programs of Algonquin Highlands and Minden Hills which would help alleviate confusion,” said Korpela in his report.
Korpela’s report said an inspector would perform a “sludge judge” test to verify if a tank required pumping, and comment on the tank’s condition as it relates to maintaining sewage levels, noting that would also eliminate the requirement of septage haulers “having to follow the inspectors around, allowing the inspector to complete more inspections.”
“The mandatory tank pump-out has strongly been the lead complaint and most controversial aspect of our current program,” he said in the report. “Tanks will now only require to be pumped out under the maintenance requirements of the building code which is far easier to defend and closer to the province’s guidelines on re-inspections.”
Mayor Andrea Roberts acknowledged it was important to listen to staff who were saying the program as is wasn’t working.
Councillor Larry Clarke said he appreciated the challenges but asked if there was a possibility to consider identifying those tanks that are higher risk and in which cases a pump-out would be deemed necessary, perhaps as part of a property sale, or that are of a certain age.
Korpela said it “adds a level of complexity” but that the idea had been discussed.
“I was very surprised at your report,” said Councillor John Smith, who said that a rate of 88 per cent of compliance suggested “tremendous buy-in,” despite 12 per cent of properties that had not completed their re-inspections, and that “to back away and let them off is a tremendous disservice to the 88 per cent of people who have respected our bylaw.”
Smith said a “good portion” of other townships demand pump-outs.
“I wasn’t part of designing the bylaw and it’s not perfect, and you’ve identified some real problems,” he said. “But the [Coalition of Haliburton Property Owners’ Associations] ... has done a lot of research on the topic of pump-outs and they say you’re missing as many as 30 per cent of the defective systems if you’re not pumping out ... For us to suggest we need to back off of something that’s identifying so many of the defective systems, to me is a big issue. I think we need to maintain that.”
Smith spoke to the importance of taking measures to protect lake health from concerns such as harmful algae blooms that affect property values on lakes as well as the quality of the lake itself, and said it would be “foolish” to walk away from the program in place. He recommended putting the item on the agenda for the environment and climate change committee to work out solutions.
“I’ve heard for years that we have the best system but I feel like we’re trying to catch the big tuna,” said Roberts, who thought sending it to the environment committee without new information might be “just like bouncing the ball back and forth.”
Korpela said the issue was timely and might result in the cancellation of the program this year without a decision.
Kennedy said he had only received the report on Thursday, and that he didn’t feel prepared to support or deny the changes. He agreed to wanting the environment committee to review the changes to offer more information.
Councillor Walt McKechnie asked, at the rate the program was going now, when it was expected to be finished. The original 13-year program was expected to be completed by 2030.
“If we keep the program the way it is, let’s say, and we have to deal with the prosecution of those who didn’t do it, we’re definitely looking at more than 13 years,” said Korpela. “We just don’t have the staff time.”
“So how much damage are we going to do to the lakes in that time,” asked McKechnie.
Smith said retaining a lawyer to ensure property owners comply with the program, passing the costs directly to those people who haven’t complied, would enable the municipality to free up staff time.
“Dozens and dozens and dozens of communities across Ontario have been able to execute these programs,” said Smith. “If we’re not going to enforce compliance with this bylaw, well, what does that say about all our other bylaws?”
Council deferred the recommendation to be discussed at the next environment and climate change committee meeting scheduled to take place Feb. 13.