Proposal to Abolish Required Septic System Inspections Threatens Kalkaska Waters

With an estimated 130,000 septic systems leaking E. coli and other pollutants into Michigan groundwater, lakes, and streams, you would hardly think it time to relax inspection requirements.

But that’s exactly what Kalkaska County is considering this spring – and this has some local residents and environmental experts concerned.

Kalkaska County has a sanitary code that requires inspections of septic systems when residential properties sell. There are no such statewide requirements, making Michigan the only state without them and leaving the job of protecting waters from septic systems up to local government.

“This proposal [to kill the inspection requirement] is wrong,” says Kalkaska county resident Seth Phillips, who adds the answer to any problems with the District 10 sanitary code’s point-of-sale requirement for septic system inspections is to improve it, not rescind it.

“We know that bad septic systems pollute and pose a threat to our drinking water and our lakes and streams. We need to work together to protect our water for all of us and for future generations,” Phillips says.

A study by Michigan State University found that septic systems in Michigan are not preventing E. coli and other fecal bacteria from reaching our water supplies. Sampling 64 river systems that drain approximately 84 percent of the Lower Peninsula for E. coli and the human-specific source tracking marker bacteria called B-theta, the research found a clear correlation: The more septic systems in the watershed, the more human fecal source-tracking bacteria in the water.

Failing septic systems expose water not only to pathogen pollution from 31 million gallons a day of raw sewage statewide, but also to the release of chemical, pharmaceutical, and other wastes resulting from domestic use.

Point-of-sale inspection ordinances make sense. A study coordinated by Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council found that one third of the aging septic systems in Antrim County have not been replaced.

“Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council has been researching this topic for several years,” says Grenetta Thomassey, the Council’s Watershed Director. “One thing that has been very clear is that Time of Transfer or Point of Sale septic system inspection programs find things wrong with septic systems and require them to be fixed. It may not be perfect; some failing systems are not inspected because the property is not being sold or transferred. However, it’s obvious from the annual reports that problems are being found and corrected, and this is a step in the right direction and helps protect our water resources.”

A report on the Kalkaska County point-of-sale program found that between April 2017 and March 2018, 335 inspections were performed in the County. Forty-five systems were in compliance with the sanitary code, while three were found to be failing. The other 287 were identified with some level of concern. So, 87% of the inspected systems during the period presented some level of issue for owners to address or be aware of. 

In a letter to Kalkaska County Commissioners, FLOW urged the officials not to eliminate the requirement.

“Requiring inspection and correction of failing on-site septic systems at the time of property sale is a reasonable method of protecting the public’s waters without unduly burdening property owners,” wrote FLOW executive director Liz Kirkwood. “It assures that the vast majority of systems will be inspected at some time to assure they are providing proper stewardship of our shared waters. Eliminating this ordinance will remove the only protection now in place to protect the public health and environment from the threats posed by inadequate septic systems.”

The District 10 Health Board will hold a public hearing on the proposed change on Friday, April 26 at the District 10 office in Cadillac, 521 Cobb Street, at 9 a.m.

5 comments on “Proposal to Abolish Required Septic System Inspections Threatens Kalkaska Waters

  1. Taryn on

    We need to keep this Sanitary Code. At the time of sale is the only way for the septic systems to be inspected and made to repair or replace. The lakes need all the help we can give them. We try to improve our waterways and this is one of the main ways of keeping septic out of the lake. Do not remove this code.

  2. Dan Buwell on

    I believe point of sale is an unfair burden on home owners.Not done in any other county.Was told that the person most behind it is in fact in a business that profits,from it’s implication.Also was a public servant.

  3. Dan Burwell on

    Lake front homes should have sealed holding tanks,that are pumped and disposed of properly. As in Mr.Phillips case.

  4. Rick on

    Seriously? Explain why the surrounding counties do not have these same inspection requirements? Did you know no one in Kalkaska polices this ordinance. Did you know this doesn’t apply to for sale by owners? Did you know on average The Grand Traverse Bays are closed due to high ecoli levels? Seriously folks, get the facts. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Make all of the area District 10 area encompasses comply with these regulations! Since this is a Kalkaska County only issue, why are you taking the meeting to a far away county making it very difficult for Kalkaska County residents to attend? Change the venue of the meeting to the Kaliseum!

  5. Marietta on

    My County is arguing this now. Most are not for it. Your waste goes into the septic tank, churns and becomes liquid then goes out to the drain field and then leaches into the ground. It doesn’t get sanitized on the way through this process. So even if a tank is cracked and leaching it is the same thing. The only difference is if it bubbles up above the ground, you get a heavy rain, and create surface runoff. But what the public doesn’t think about is all the animals that create the same situation. Wildlife, cattle farms, pig farms, goat farms, horse farms, etc all create the same situation. The other thing people don’t seem to know is that the Health Department can already inspect systems without a request or a fee – it’s called do the job you are already getting paid for.


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