Why are the Small Wastewater Facility (Septic System) Regulations so important?

JACKSON, Wyo. — Teton County draft Small Wastewater Facility (SWF) Regulations that govern septic systems are open for Public Comment. As a headwaters community of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, our outstanding water resources deserve the best protection — equal to the value they provide.

Proper management of septic systems is of critical importance to our valley’s water resources. Population growth, recently accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, and a rapidly changing climate have made protecting source water a community priority.

It is widely accepted that poorly managed septic systems can lead to significant water quality problems. The 1996 National Water Quality Inventory Report to Congress said that “improperly constructed and poorly maintained septic systems are believed to cause substantial and widespread nutrient and microbial contamination to groundwater.” The proposed SWF Regulations need to be stronger in order to protect our sole source aquifer.

How do the regulations protect water quality?

According to the EPA, proper management of septic systems involves implementing a comprehensive series of life-cycle series of events and activities. Septic systems typically last 20 to 30 years before needing replacement. If the system has not been correctly maintained or has otherwise been misused, this time frame may be shorter. Each of the following components is a critical part of a complete program to adequately protect public health and the environment;

  • Public Education and Participation
  • Planning
  • Recordkeeping, Inventory, and Reporting
  • Site Evaluation
  • Financial Assistance and Funding
  • Construction
  • Design
  • Training and CertificationResiduals Management
  • Inspections and Monitoring
  • Corrective Actions
  • Performance
  • Operation and Maintenance

The SWF Regulations are fundamental to a comprehensive septic system management program because so many life-cycle events and activities are addressed explicitly in the rules. Whether you are a regulatory authority (e.g., Teton County), homeowner, developer, site evaluator, or service provider — everyone has an important role to play in a successful management program.

Are the regulations alone enough to protect water quality?

There are many areas in Teton County where septic systems are not appropriate because of environmental sensitivity or public health concerns. In areas where septic systems are appropriate, they must be managed to prevent public health and environmental impacts.

Unfortunately, the current septic system management program does not go far enough to ensure proper performance. Teton County has historically failed to require homeowner accountability for septic systems performance after installation. Few systems receive proper maintenance because homeowners are unaware that the systems even need care.

The recently proposed amendments to the SWF regulations fail to address the need to inspect existing septic systems and the need for a financial aid program to help homeowners replace old and failed systems. We know poorly maintained septic systems are contributing to the degradation of our waters. In some cases, failing septic systems have made our residents’ drinking water undrinkable, yet the proposed amendments do not address that problem despite that serious health threat.

Teton County needs a sensible program that requires homeowners to inspect and maintain their systems and enables Teton County to administer a program for compliance.

Diagram depicting septic system process and potential hazards. Photo: Courtesy of POWJH

How does a comprehensive septic system management program benefit the community?

Proper management is a comprehensive term for achieving the long-term sustainability of a septic system, including adequate operation and maintenance. The benefits of a comprehensive management program include protection of water quality and public health, protection of consumers’ investment in home and business ownership, increased septic system service life, and replacement cost savings.

The Time to Speak Up is Now! Let the County know you want clean water.

How to provide Public Comment on the SWF Regulations:
• Attend the Virtual Public Meeting on Tuesday, November 30, 2021 at 6:00 PM via this Microsoft Teams meeting link: bit.ly/3xisYk9 or Call in (audio only): 307-314-3198, Phone Conference ID – 733 171 863#
• Submit written Public Comment until Monday, December 20, 2021: tvanholland@tetoncountywy.gov, commissioners@tetoncountywy.gov
• A Public Hearing will be held during the regular meeting of the Teton County Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday, December 21, 2021 at 9:00 AM when the draft regulations will be presented for consideration of approval.

Need help drafting your comments? For guidance and to learn more about the primary concerns POWJH would like to see addressed in the proposed regulations, visit POWJH.org

About The Author

Sponsored by Protect Our Water Jackson Hole

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