Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Water district would regulate septic system uses in county

Express Staff Writer

Owners of septic systems in Blaine County may be subject to new management rules and regulations aimed to enhance the protection of public health and water resources.

The plan, which was unveiled Monday, is a joint effort between Blaine County, the South Central Health District and development consultant Developing Green. Development of the proposal is being funded by grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Central to the plan is passage of an ordinance to create a new Blaine County Water and Sewer District. The district would be responsible for completing a comprehensive inventory of all septic systems in the county and instituting "continuous management and professional standards of practice," the district's mission statement declares. The overall goal is to have all wastewater in the county managed professionally.

"We don't want to get to a point where our drinking water is foul from our own waste," Blaine County Commissioner Tom Bowman said.

If the ordinance is passed, it will be the first of its kind in Idaho. Similar ordinances have passed in other, more populous states.

The effort is being funded by two EPA grants totaling $120,000, plus $13,500 from the county's water-quality fund. If the ordinance is passed, county residents can expect a monthly fee of $2 to $5, said Don Wright, Blaine County operations manager.

Developing Green, a Ketchum-based consulting firm that promotes environmentally healthy and sustainable development, was hired by the county to draft rules and policies for the district.

Morgan Brown, a co-founder of Developing Green, said the initial challenge will be educating the approximately 3,600 septic system users in the county.

"A lot of people don't know they even have septic or a well," he said, adding that proper and regular management of septic systems can save money in the long term and greatly reduce the risk of groundwater contamination.

If people do not comply with the district's proposed standards, the county can mandate those people to fix their system.

"The ordinance will have that authority," Wright said. "Whether we go to that extent is something we're working on right now.

"Our main intent is going to be to let people know about their systems and do the inventory. And we're hoping that we get as much voluntary compliance as possible through that process."

Wright said it will probably take a couple years to complete the inventory.

Bob Erickson, environmental health specialist for South Central District Health, said about a quarter of the county's population and a third of the state's population use a septic system.

The county will host a public workshop regarding the proposal on March 7 at 6 p.m. in the Blaine County annex building, which is across the street from the Old County Courthouse.

"It will be open to anyone who wants to make comments or participate in the rules and policies that will be the details of the ordinance," Wright said. "This will be the first time we've put a draft out there for the public and given people a chance to help steer the mechanism for how everything works."

A public hearing on the ordinance will be held March 14 at 10:15 a.m. in the Old County Courthouse.

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