The On-site Operation and Maintenance (O&M) program is a State mandated program to ensure that septic systems are being used and maintained in a way that is safe for public health. A septic system needs regular checking and maintenance to avoid costly repairs, just like your car or your house. The Washington State 2005 on-site septic system regulations (WAC 246-272A) state that septic system owners shall "assure a complete evaluation of the system components to determine functionality, maintenance needs, and compliance with regulations and any permits." State regulations require that homeowners inspect and maintain their septic system to ensure it is functioning properly. A Grant from the Department of Ecology helped produce a brochure and poster to inform the public about State of Washington inspection requirements.
The State regulations took effect on July 1, 2007. Clallam County code was revised in 2008 to incorporate the new requirements as well as recommendations from citizens and industry in the Clallam County On-site Septic System Management Plan. Clallam County Environmental Health Services (EH) enforces septic inspection requirements as capacity allows. Environmental Health is working with both the industry and other jurisdictions in the region to build capacity for needed services including homeowner education programs.
Clallam County Environmental Health (EH) commonly refers to these evaluations as septic system maintenance "system status reports" involving specific steps depending on the type of system. The new state regulations require that homeowners inspect and maintain their septic system to ensure it is functioning properly. At a minimum, this means that an owner of a traditional gravity septic system must have it properly inspected at least once every 3 years. Alternative systems (those with pumps) must be inspected every year. By the way, simply pumping the tank - while important - is not adequate unless all system components are professionally evaluated as well.
What makes up a professional septic system maintenance inspection and system status report?
Septic system inspections and maintenance activities require that there is access available to view and inspect both your tank and the drainfield. A professional inspection may involve locating and uncovering the various parts of the septic system in addition to the steps below.
The septic tank professional inspection includes:
Check tank for leaks or groundwater intrusion
Check and clean baffle screen
Check color and odor
Look for back-up stains
Check pump tank (floats and effluent pump)
If problems are noted or a tank needs pumping, the inspector will tell you
Drainfield professional inspections should include the following steps:
Look for any mushy spots
Check if D-box is level (conventional gravity designs only)
Check pump tank (pressurized systems) floats and pumps
Check electrical controls and alarms
If any problems are noted, the inspector will recommend solutions
Once the inspection is completed, maintenance providers report their findings to Clallam County Environmental Health. The system status inspection report is entered into the main database which is used to track septic system records for the County.
Clallam County professional maintenance providers are required to be licensed to be able to inspect and maintain septic systems in Clallam County. Maintenance providers are required to pass a test, have demonstrated knowledge of septic systems, and be bonded and insured. Maintenance Providers (PDF) are licensed to inspect all types of systems including conventional gravity flow systems, pressurized systems, and other alternative type systems.
Septic System Designers (PDF) are licensed by the State of Washington Department of Licensing. To be licensed, they must undergo certain training, give evidence of experience in on-site design, and pass an exam. Anyone licensed by the State of Washington may design or inspect septic systems in Clallam County. Septic Sam
Clallam County Environmental Health (EH) created a homeowners' guide to septic systems called 'Take Care of Your Septic' (PDF) that explains how they work and gives useful tips for maintaining them. We also offer free Septics 101 classes, both in person and online, for people who have septic systems, or anyone else who is interested in learning about them. O&M is the main topic of a newsletter we've sent all septic system owners, called the "Clean Water Herald, Septics Edition". You may also wish to learn about Installing Access Risers (PDF) to help facilitate frequent Operation and Maintenance inspections. The EPA celebrates "Septic Smart Week" every year in September and has developed homeowner education materials for use by local jurisdictions to help spread the message of Be Septic Smart that encourages homeowners to be proactive in protecting their investment.
Homeowner DIY Inspection Program (Septics 201)
During the public process for developing Clallam County's On-site Septic System Management Plan (PDF), many homeowners expressed an interest in being trained to inspect their own septic system. As a result of this feedback and at the On-site Septic System Work Group's suggestion, Environmental Health has developed a homeowner "do it yourself" inspection certification program called Septics 201. To see if your septic system qualifies for you to be able to receive training to do your own septic system inspection in Clallam County, read the Summary of Septic System Inspection Requirements. To learn more about this program please visit our Septics 201: Homeowner Do-It-Yourself (DIY) informational web page.
Operation and Maintenance agreements are required for proprietary systems (currently Aerobic Treatment Units, Biofilters and some Drip Systems). This agreement is between a system owner and an approved Maintenance Provider, certifying that the system will be inspected and maintained. The Maintenance Provider agrees to provide regular inspections and maintenance recommendations, and the owner agrees to maintain the system with proper usage and by following the specialist's recommendations. Clallam County On-site Program maintains a list of licensed Maintenance Providers (PDF). Please be aware that not all Maintenance Providers are able to inspect proprietary systems. Contact Environmental Health at 360-417-2506 for a list of those providers who are currently able to inspect proprietary systems.
On-site Septic System Inspection Status Tracking
The Department of Health (DOH) requires EH to track and report on the inspection status of septic systems under our jurisdiction. Numerous grant projects over the past eight years have been helping us improve our database to better perform those duties. Homeowners can now determine their septic system's inspection status by using the Online Permit System or by visiting the Clallam County On-site Septic System Inspection Status Map available online. You may also wish to visit the Inspection Status page to learn more about how the map can be used and the "Red to Green" inspection tracking program.