Wells and Septics

Is Your Septic System Up to Scratch? Who’s Asking?

In the absence of farms with cow pastures and cultivated fields abutting Buck Lake, it is fair to say that one of, if not the greatest threat to the quality of our water is us – we who live here full time or seasonally. We threaten the lake with many of our activities, fertilizing lawns or flower beds, cutting back the waterside bushes and other foliage, bathing and washing our hair in the lake, and so on. One of the greater controllable threats we pose is represented by the septic systems that treat the effluent from our toilets, showers, washing machines, dishwashers, and kitchen sinks. Inadequate treatment of this effluent releases nutrients, especially phosphorus, that accelerate the growth of algae and weeds in the lake and also release faecal bacteria that are a danger to our health and that of our children.

There has been some discussion in the South Frontenac Township Council of a policy requiring inspection of septic systems. That discussion seemed quite positive for a while but recently was put into abeyance following on a decision by the Provincial government not to proceed further with its study of requiring mandatory septic inspections province-wide. Despite the Province’s not proceeding, our courageous neighbouring Central Frontenac Township Council has proceeded to develop a policy to require septic system inspections, the primary impetus being its concern to safeguard the water quality in Sharbot Lake which, like many lakes in both our Townships, is increasingly popular and, therefore, is threatened by increasing population pressure and larger homes and cottages no longer of their once characteristic rustic character. The septic systems of yester-year are just not up to dealing effectively with the vastly increased effluent from multiple bathrooms as well as the grey water from our “mod cons” – showers, dishwashers, and washing machines. South Frontenac Council has taken note of our neighbour’s decision and it may be that the question will come back on the table in the not too distant future.

The issue, of course, is cost, the cost of inspections to the Township and cost to those property owners whose septic systems are not up to scratch; the cost of their replacement with effective septic tanks and leaching beds can be quite high, especially given that we are on the Laurentian Shield with its thin overburden over granite rock.

Inspections could be done by personnel hired by the Township but a better idea would be to provide an educational program and have inspections done by licensed operators of septic tank pumping services. That is how it has been done for many years in at least one township in Quebec north of Montreal where it is mandatory for property owners to have their septic tanks pumped out every two years and to present a certificate of inspection when they pay their taxes. This system seems to work very well there and protects their lakes and rivers effectively.

South Frontenac Council is concerned, however, not only with lakefront properties but with protecting the environment and especially the supply of potable well water in the Township’s built-up villages and hamlets. It is particularly concerned about the financial implications for long-time residents, many with very limited resources, having to replace septic systems built for a different low-use time, much like those in rustic lakefront cottages. Careful consideration would have to be given not only to the allowable time-line for the replacement of inadequate septic systems but also to ways and means of assisting residents to pay for having it done. Could the Township establish a fund, or designate part of its reserve fund, from which residents could borrow the up-front cost and replay the loan through a supplement to their taxes over an extended period of time? The Council in Central Frontenac is considering just this sort of question before implementing its policy decision.

The whole issue of cost really comes down to the classic ‘short-term pain for long-term gain’ or, alternatively, paying nothing now but a lot more later (long-term pain). That “later” is what we leave to our children and grandchildren. We all need to think about that.

Duncan Sinclair
October, 2017