Septic System Inspection Status
Clallam County enjoys plenty of mountains, lakes, rivers, and beaches full of shellfish. Unfortunately, water pollution can limit access to outdoor attractions-even in seemingly "pristine" Clallam County. Bacteria in the water can make people and animals sick.
One source of bacterial pollution in our waterways includes failing On-site Sewage Systems (OSS). In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the problem even forced water quality downgrades limiting shellfish harvest around Dungeness Bay. Shellfish make up an important part of Washington State's economy and poor water quality was not unique to Clallam County; much of Puget Sound suffered from bacterial pollution.
State Rules for Septic System Inspections
Over the past decade, improvements have been made: water quality classifications have improved and many acres of shellfish beds have reopened.
Two State laws in place before 2007 have helped drive improvements.
WAC 246-272A-270 requires regular inspection of septic systems by stating 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." At a minimum, conventional systems must be inspected every three years and all other systems must be inspected annually. Regular inspections protect against failing systems that can pollute neighboring wells and waterways. As an added benefit, regular inspections can actually save money by avoiding costly maintenance later. Clallam County even offers septic inspection rebates when grant funding is available.
Meanwhile, Chapter 70.118A RCW led to the creation of a Marine Recovery Area (MRA). Basically, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Olympic National Park, the Bagley Creek watershed, and Diamond Point make up the borders of the Clallam MRA. This area is recognized as particularly important for shellfish beds, sensitive to water quality issues, and worthy of extra care and attention.
Inspections & DIY
When the state legislature passed these laws it also required the twelve counties that border Puget Sound to develop septic system management plans. Clallam County recognized that these laws would have a tremendous effect on rural homeowners, so Environmental Health convened stakeholders to help develop a plan to implement these laws locally. The "On-site Septic System Work Group" included representatives of a wide range of interests and met from October 2006 through November 2010 to develop and review recommendations for Clallam County. These recommendations are included in the Clallam County On-Site Septic System Management Plan (PDF), adopted by the Board of Health in June 2007.
During the public process for developing Clallam County's OSS Management Plan, many septic system owners expressed an interest in being trained to inspect their own system. As a result of this feedback, and at the workgroup's suggestion, Environmental Health developed the Septics 201 "Do It Yourself" homeowner inspection training program using grant funding.
See the Summary of Septic System Inspection Requirements for details on eligibility. Interested homeowners have the option of free training online when their septic system is eligible or in-person classes to gain certification for "Do-it-Yourself" inspections. In-person classes are usually held multiple times each year as grant funding allows. Once a homeowner is certified to inspect their own septic system they will receive automated email reminders when their septic system is due for its next inspection and be able to submit those inspections directly online.
When homeowners must have their septic system inspected to meet governmental action requirements like for Property Transfers, Lot Alternations, Change of Use, Food Service or Building Permits (the last 4 of which require an inspection by a licensed septic system designer), or choose not to become certified to do their own routine maintenance inspections, they will need to hire a Professional Maintenance Provider (PDF) from the list of currently licensed Providers in Clallam County.
It is the responsibility of every septic system owner to have their system inspected on a regular basis.
Clallam County Environmental Health (EH) is enforcing the state septic system inspection requirement as much as we are able with our current budget by focusing on target areas of concern while working towards adequate staffing levels. EH has been working with both the industry and other jurisdictions in the region to build capacity for needed services including homeowner education programs and accessible data online to meet this demand for additional services going forward.
Clallam County has one of the largest Marine Recovery Areas (MRAs) of the Puget Sound Local Health Jurisdictions with over 12,000 septic systems (more than half of the County's total septic systems)! The MRA has been above 30 percent compliance (percentage of septic system current on their inspections) since 2018 which is a number we are very proud of considering where we started. Clallam County still has a long way to go to meet the Results Washington and Puget Sound Vital Signs target goal of 60 percent compliance in the MRA by 2020! If your septic system is not Green on our map, you are now our target demographic.
The "Red to Green" Program
The "Red-to-Green" project started in 2009 when the County received Centennial Clean Water Program grant funding through the Washington State Department of Ecology to update records, locate septic systems for which there were no records, and encourage inspections and system upgrades such as risers and outlet filters when possible. This program has continued with funding from the Washington State Department of Health to perform public education and outreach activities, offer rebates to encourage septic system inspections, and improve tracking and reporting capabilities.
Environmental Health (EH) tracks the septic system "inspection status" of developed parcels in the Clallam County Permit Database. Every developed parcel (according to Assessor records) in Clallam County that is not on sewer (as far as we know…) has a case in the database to store septic operations and maintenance (O&M) inspection records. If a parcel has a residence or business, but is not confirmed connected to a municipal sewer system, we assume the wastewater is going to an on-site septic system even if we don't have a septic permit on file.
To help track septic system inspection status, we have connected the permit database to our online maps, showing system status in the MRA and countywide. The map color codes individual parcels to show the septic systems inspection status.
Septic systems lacking records are considered "suspected" or "assumed" and are colored RED on the map. We estimate there are currently less than 200 such "lost" systems left to find in the MRA. This is down considerably from when the project began, though there are still over one thousand suspected septic systems left to verify countywide. Parcels with a known septic system but behind on inspections are YELLOW. Parcels that have a recorded permit and a current inspection report on file are GREEN.
As you can see from the comparison maps above, we have made a lot of progress on getting septic systems inspected since 2010. The acreage of approved commercial shellfish growing areas located in Dungeness Bay has also increased during that time.
EH is still actively working to locate all the suspected septic systems in the MRA. If you receive a letter from us, or find a flier on your door, please get in touch with EH using the contact information listed. If you have records or other information about your septic system, please share them with us. The purpose of our letters and visits is to exchange information and convert the Red parcels on our septic system status map to Yellow, and eventually to Green!
Getting your property to Green and keeping it Green by maintaining your septic system and having regular inspections helps protect our waters and can save you money in the long term.
Remember, in the MRA the first inspection must be performed by a licensed septic system designer or maintenance provider. Pumping a septic tank is not the same as a full inspection where all the components of the septic system are inspected.
Interactive OSS Inspection Status Map - *CURRENTLY IN MAINTENANCE FOR UPGRADES*
In 2016 Environmental Health (EH) worked with the Clallam County IT department to automate OSS Status Map updates. In 2019 all Clallam County Web Maps were upgraded to a new mapping platform using current conventions for commercial web maps. This map was originally to check the OSS inspection status of a property. The display is regularly updated automatically from EH database records. In 2022 the On-site Inspection Tracking Database went into maintenance mode until it can be replaced in late 2023. Inspection records were last updated in July 2022 and incomplete or outdated records have been on display since. The Public OSS Inspection Status Map is currently inaccessible for upgrades.
On this online version of the "Red to Green" map (PDF), the additional color of Orange represents more than one septic system on a property. Blue indicates that the lot is served by a Larger On-site Septic System (LOSS) that is managed by the State Department of Health. Dark purple represents parcels confirmed connected to a municipal sewer system while a lighter shade of purple represents parcels within a sewer service area that could be required to connect to sewer in the future. No color is applied to vacant parcels or where there is no plumbing known to be present.
The image on the right shows the Layer List of the information available on the OSS Status Map. Uncheck those layers you do not wish to see. Select the three dots following each layer for other options available in using this layer. The OSS Status Map will open zoomed into an area between Sequim and Port Angeles but you can use the mouse to drag and drop to reposition the map view, select a predetermined general area from the Bookmark menu or enter a parcel, road name or address into the search bar. For complete details on each menu widget see the Web Map Widget page.
OSS Inspection Status Map Use Tips
The updated OSS Status Map uses the same general mapping tools as other County maps with the same functionality. General information about using the updated County maps is available on the Map Help page.
- When the OSS Status Map is first selected there will be a slight delay while the data loads to a pre-set location.
- You will need to read and check the standard map "Understanding of Limitations" disclaimer to continue.
- The Find Parcel, Address or Place search bar at the top left can be used to locate a septic system of interest. Incomplete address or parcel information will return a more general area result.
- You may use the mouse to drag and drop pan as well as zoom the map in and out using the mouse scroll button.
- Clickable Zoom in (+) and Zoom out (-) buttons are also available on the top left of the map.
- The Default extent (home icon) button sends the map back to the pre-set starting location and the My Location button below it will zoom to your physical location if you share that information.
- You may click on a parcel of interest on the map to bring up a pop-up text summary of the OSS Status of the parcel (or parcels) you select.
- If you have selected more than one parcel you will see a number in parentheses (1 of X) and an arrow to choose between which parcels' information you would like to see displayed.
Upon selection a text box will display all of the following information about a locations septic system inspection status:
- The pop-up text box will display the selected parcel number.
- What the OSS Inspection Status of this location is, Reports Current or not.
- The SOM (System Operation and Maintenance) case number used in the EH tracking database is also used as the User ID for the Septics 201 DIY Homeowner Inspection Program. If there is more than one it will be labeled as multiple. Generally, there is only more than one SOM case number when there is more than one septic system on a property.
- This text summary will include a link to the Online Permit System by selecting the "More information" link where additional permit details can be found as noted on the Septic Permit Information Available Online web page. A link to the Assessors property information can also be found there.
- It will give the date of the septic system's last inspection (or display "No Reports" if none have been filed recently).
- It will indicate the Required Inspection Frequency in months (generally dependent on septic system type, see the Summary of Septic System Inspection Requirements page for more details).
- And type of septic system as shown on the example. If there is more than one septic system type on the parcel it will be labeled as multiple.
The following map disclaimer statement applies to the OSS Status Map:
Map information is from multiple sources, accuracy is limited and layers may not align with each other. This map is intended to serve only as a guide to the location and general information about septic system inspection data. Onsite Septic System inspection data is updated monthly, please allow for adequate time for records to be processed. the color representation of the septic system status may be subject to database inaccuracies. Please visit the Online Permit System for current information.
Interactive web maps provide a powerful tool to access and visually display property information. The array of tools and options can, however, prove intimidating-especially to new users. If in doubt about the status of your septic system, don't hesitate to contact Clallam County Environmental Health. We hope the information and resources presented here support your efforts to keep your septic system functioning without problems for many years to come.