In July, the Blaine County Water Quality Department sent two separate letters to homeowners asking for information about their septic tanks. According to County Commissioner Angenie McCleary, the mailing was a starting point meant to inform the public about upcoming regulation changes and to encourage individuals to have their tanks inspected before the regulations are set in place.
The changes, which are not yet set in stone, are being made to support a new wastewater management ordinance approved by the County Commission in November.
Blaine County has 3,600 septic tanks and many are located in sensitive watersheds. Prior to the mailing, the county Water Quality Department had little to no records on most septic tanks.
Forty percent of homeowners responded to the department's letters. While most simply provided the requested information, a few posed questions about the new regulations.
"A lot of people are concerned about fees that may be charged to each septic tank owner," said county Water Quality Manager Meredith Warren. "They were also concerned about the county coming onto their property to inspect, which is misinformation because it would be someone from the private sector."
As a result of the letters, local septic cleaning and inspection companies have been busier than usual fielding phone calls.
"We have been really busy with people calling with questions," said David Taylor, owner of Taylor Septic Tank Service.
Taylor said most people do have up-to-date systems and simply need the information to give it to the county.
"We've had a large number of the population just kind of be inquisitive," he said. "And a few people called to say they didn't even know they had a septic tank. So it's probably a good thing."
Aric Johnson, an employee of Sweet's Septic Tank, agreed, saying that most callers were those who owned septic tanks that had been neglected for years.
While most are in agreement that septic tanks require more regulation for the health and safety of the community, how stringent the regulations should be and how to enforce them is still in question. An advisory committee consisting of health department officials, septic tank experts and county officials has been created to discuss the changes in more detail. An exact meeting date, however, has not been set.
"The goal is clear," McCleary said. "We want is to protect our drinking water. But how we get there is still unclear."