Marshall County Health Department Highlights Septic Issues Near County Lakes

The Marshall County Health Department made a presentation at at the recent meeting of the Marshall County Lakes and Waters Council to elaborate on some of the common septic problems that occur around Marshall County lakes. According to Wes Burden, administrator for the health department, every on-site disposal system has similar issues, including separation distances between wells, septic fields, drains, ditches, tiles, structures and bodies of water. He explained less than 15 percent of slopes are suitable for an in-ground system, with 6 percent or less suitable for a mound system.

On top of that, soil limitations also cause problems, stemming from seasonal high water tables, soil loading rates or surface ponding. It’s not uncommon for administrators to “bend the rules” in order to cut down on the expense of pump and haul situations which can cost around $700 per month or prevent condemnation of a home. Burden explained in his presentation that state statute allows for “best judgment,” preventing them from going deeper than 48 inches, allow direct discharges into waters of the state, and site limitations are to be taken into account.

Burden said the first county code regarding septic system was enacted in 1967, preventing septic systems from being located within 25 feet from the lake or 50 feet from wells. The first state code, passed in 1978, required permits to be on file and worked to prevent waters of the state from being polluted by increasing the minimum distance to 50 feet. In 1991, a significant revision was made to the state code and included soil evaluation. This has undergone minor revisions in 2011 and 2012; one main change required soil scientists to evaluate the soil.

He explained that lakes have been prime building spots for a very long time; even sewage and zoning codes. Small lots allowed more people to have lake access and made money for the developer, and many of them started out as summer or weekend cottages with a minimal septic system. As time progressed and codes were tightened, the cottages became bigger and some even became year-round residences, but the septic systems were not upgraded and space to repair an old system was not considered. It was not until sometimes in the mid 1990’s that building departments began asking for releases on remodeling. Despite that, a lot of newer house still have an old septic.

Consequently, many problems that were present years ago are still present today, and Burden said his purpose of holding the presentation was to get information out regarding these issues.