All About Septic Systemsby John Price on 07/11/10
All About Septic Systems
Septic systems are private individual sewage disposal systems and they work great given proper design and proper soil conditions. Costs can vary greatly depending on soils and regulations.
One regulatory layer is the State of Missouri. They regulate and approve subdivisions where the planned sewage disposal system is individual septic systems. They have three main thresholds. They do not regulate parcels of over 5 acres. They do not regulate less than 7 lots. They want no systems (within their regulatory powers) on lots of less than about an acre.
Years ago, I was on a work group being run by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Individual septic systems were the issue and I was an industry representative helping the Department of Natural Resources come up with the rules.
The Department of Natural Resources is not concerned about one homeowner with one system that fails. They are concerned about public pollution impacting neighbors and the quality of water in the State of Missouri. It was their determination that a failure on 5 acres or over was taken care of by nature and was an individual problem, not a public problem. And it was their determination that a system will work, even in poor soils on 5 acres or more. It was their determination that 6 failures in a rural area were a private problem and not a public pollution problem. And it was their judgment that on less than an acre, systems were not likely to work properly. I was at all of those meetings and the group; consisting of health department people, Department of Natural Resources people and a few industry representatives; really studied the issues. I personally think the current State of Missouri rules make sense.
From there you go to local jurisdictions. Local jurisdictions vary greatly in their rules.
For new subdivisions in Jefferson County, you must have 2 acres or more for an individual septic system.
In St. Francois County a typical septic system costs about $2,500 to $3,000. In Jefferson County, the cost is more like $10,000 to $12,000. The difference is purely regulatory as Jefferson County has a long history of poorly installed systems. In my opinion, the regulators over reacted to previous bad industry practices.
Figure $10,000 and no sewer bill in Jefferson County. Figure up to $2000 for a sewer hookup or an $8000 difference, paid only when you need it. That makes the availability of central sewers add about $4000 or $5000 to the value of your land when sewer bills and hookups are calculated.
Before you buy a small acreage in Jefferson County, be aware of soils. If the subdivision is an approved subdivision through planning and zoning, the soils have been checked and the presumption is that a septic system will work. Beware of individual lots in older subdivisions that are less than 2 acres. You might have trouble getting approval for a septic system. This is especially true if the older subdivision pre dated planning and zoning.
The bias by regulators is that central sewers should be used when possible. They feel the environment is better protected with that regulatory bias. I do not agree with them.
A few years ago I had a 500 acre project in Stratford, Missouri which is in Greene County and near Springfield. We had a little fewer than 60 lots. A good friend of mine is an avid environmentalist and invested in the project. His one big hang up on investing was that we would be using septic tanks. Over dinner at his house in Springfield, I gave him the best education I could on how they worked and how regulations protected the environment. He decided to invest. Shortly afterwards, the City of Springfield had a major sewer plant failure and dumped raw sewage into the James River for days. I saw it in the news and called my friend. I asked him which did more damage to the environment, one septic system failure or the major plant failure that Springfield had just experienced. He told me I had made my point, and he became an advocate of well designed projects that use individual sewage disposal systems.
The EPA says "Onsite/decentralized wastewater treatment systems (they are really saying septic systems in government talk.) serve approximately 25 percent of the U.S. population and 40 percent of new development." They also say "EPA determined that with the technology now available, adequately managed decentralized systems can protect public health and the environment as well as provide long-term solutions for the nation's wastewater needs."
In a way it is similar to private wells versus public water. Both work. Central sewer systems work and so do individual septic systems if properly designed and installed. Both can fail and both can cause problems.
There are three lessons to be drawn from this short article. Septic systems work. They do not damage the environment any more than central sewage systems. Check out the regulations to be sure you can legally build on the land after you buy it.
Check out my properties on this web site. All either have central sewers or soils tests that presume individual septic systems will work. I follow the regulations and try to protect the environment.
Thanks for taking the time to read this.