Whidbey Island septic system law takes hold

It won’t be long before the average Joe and Jill gets clued in to one of the biggest changes in Whidbey Island living to come along in years: The government will be making sure you maintain your septic system.

Island County has been busy preparing for this day since the Legislature adopted the mandate a couple of years ago. New rules take effect in only a few months, on Jan. 1, 2009.

Homeowners must have their conventional septic systems inspected every three years; or every year for those who live in particularly sensitive areas like Penn Cove and the Holmes Harbor Shellfish Protection District, or for those with pressure systems, mound systems or other alternative septic systems. Inspections will also have to be made prior to sale of a house.

As noted in a Whidbey News-Times story earlier this month, the county has already certified several dozen businesses to do the inspections, estimated to cost from $100 to $300. Each septic system inspection must be filed with the county.

There will be a do-it-yourself option for homeowners with conventional septic systems, but they must first complete a training class offered free by the county. This requires about 40 minutes on one’s home computer or in a local library, plus part of a day in the field and classroom. Sign up by email at homeownerseptic@co.island.wa.us.

Critics have claimed that this is another costly intrusion into the private lives of citizens, and it’s hard not to be sympathetic to their argument. We all long for a simpler time. But the fact is that thousands of new people are pouring into the Puget Sound region each month and we need to make sure all septic systems, new and old, are functioning properly. This is important to public health and helps protect Puget Sound and other waters. The state has already ordered it, the counties are ready to comply, and there’s no way to stop it short of a court order.

The wise citizen will be prepared prior to Jan. 1 so they can check their own systems, or save up the money to have someone else do it. Septic Tank University, as it has been called, is ready to open. If you disdain computers, inquire at 679-7350.

Navy sewer hike helpful

It’s a positive sign that Oak Harbor and the Navy have reached an agreement in which the Navy pays a more reasonable rate for wastewater treatment.

The roughly ninefold increase to $3.04 per thousand gallons more accurately reflects the true cost of treating sewage, according to Doug Merriman, city finance director.

The extra money from the Navy will help keep the cost down for homeowners and more importantly help the city plan and implement a badly-needed upgrade to its sewage processing system.

The city uses both its own treatment plant at Windjammer Park and the Navy’s lagoon system at Crescent Harbor to treat its wastewater. City workers do a great job keeping the system operating at peak efficiency, but the fact is that the finished product that pours into Puget Sound is not up to modern standards. As a demonstration to the city council last year showed, Oak Harbor is putting murky, rather putrid-looking treated water into Puget Sound, while a modern sewer plant produces a clear product that, as sewer plant operators like to boast, “is clean enough to drink.”

Oak Harbor is going to need a lot of money from various sources, including homeowners, to bring its sewer system up to modern standards. The new contract with the Navy helps considerably. It may not be enough in the long run but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

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