Recommendation for a Mandatory Septic-System Inspection and Pump-out Programme for ACW Township

Presented to Township Council on November 19, 2002.


Good evening Ben, council members and staff.

Thank you for your time and attention this evening.

As you are aware, ACLA members have become increasingly concerned about the ongoing e.coli pollution levels in Lake Huron.

There has been a history of accusations as to the source of this pollution. Cottagers blame farmers, farmers blame cottagers and the pollution continues.

In 2001 ACLA began a stream-testing programme in an effort to quantify the pollution entering the lake from ACW streams. In the first year we tested 12 streams at highway #21 every two weeks for 15 weeks from early May to late November. In the spring you received the results of those tests.

The tests showed consistent levels of e'coli. For the year, the average was 11 times the Provincial Water Quality Standards for recreational water.

This year we are testing the three streams putting the highest e'coli load on the lake. Despite a record dry summer, only one test out of the first twelve was below the provincial standards. Only one test day followed significant rain. On that date the average test jumped to 84 times the Provincial standards and about 200 times the average from the last date.

We have developed bad news and bad news. The bad news is that we have not found a significant source of pollution. The other bad news is that the pollution seems to originate from all along the stream with the pollution levels staying level as the stream gets larger and larger as it moves towards the lake….indicating that there is pollution entering the stream all along its length.

The fact that the numbers skyrocket after rain would seem to indicate that the major source of e'coli pollution is manure runoff. If it were septic systems, the pollution levels would be constant.

Despite these opinions and findings, there is still general consensus that malfunctioning septic systems contribute to beach pollution.

Seventy three percent of ACLA members responding to the member survey are in favour of mandatory septic system inspections and pumpouts, with 20% against and 7 % not answering the question.

There is no doubt that many of the residences in the township have malfunctioning, inadequate or non-existent systems. Information received from various septic pumping companies indicates that fewer than 40% of septic tanks along the lakefront are ever pumped. Inland..the percentage drops even further.

This information would be disturbing on its own if we were confident that the remaining systems were functioning and non-polluting.

When mandatory inspection and pumpout programmes are begun in communities in Ontario, the results are alarmingly similar. One third of all systems are found to be environmentally sound, one third are found to have minor problems, which can be solved by an investment of less than $100. One third are found to be non-existent or non-functioning. These residences are pouring 100% of their excrement and urine into the ground and eventually into the township's streams and Lake Huron.

In the year 2000 eight graduate students from the University of Guelph conducted a study for the Huron County Surface Water Coalition. This study examined the development of a septic system inspection and pumpout programme for Huron County.

I have included copies of this study into your information package. I encourage you to read the report. It takes less than an hour to read and provides an discussion of why this programme is urgently required as well as an implementation plan.

If this project had been assigned to as major consulting company the cost would have been in excess of $200,000. The fact that it was done by highly qualified students makes it a major bargain.

The study was performed prior to the amalgamation of the townships in Huron County. Townships were rated for pollution potential based on a number of criteria…..separating lakefront and inland townships.

Ashfield was rated as the most potentially polluting lakefront township. West Wawanosh was rated at the second highest inland risk. Colborne…due to fewer streams, public beaches and intensive cottage development was rated at five of six in lakefront townships.

The fact that there are no upstream municipal sewage systems or lagoons in our townships is proof that our problem is self induced…we can't blame it on anyone else. Our public swimming areas are polluted for two reasons….manure and household wastes.

We believe that the problem is 90% manure induced. Research done at Ridgetown College comparing the impact of human waste with livestock waste clearly shows that human impact is minimal. We would welcome the opportunity to publicly discuss this evidence with our local MPP Helen Johns who also happens to be the Ontario Minister of Agriculture.

Despite the fact that we believe that manure spreading with total disregard for the environment coupled with lack of fencing along our streams are responsible for the highest percentage of stream pollution, we still believe that all sources of pollution must be eliminated.

ACW must implement a mandatory septic system inspection and pumpout programme.

Included in this package are articles describing other townships' experience in implementing similar systems. I could have included hundreds of pages describing similar programmes in North America but it seemed wasteful as numerous Ontario townships are now running or planning similar programmes. The University of Guelph report includes some of these examples.

We are requesting that the council create a committee with a mandate to investigate how to implement a mandatory system. We suggest that this committee have a deadline of June 30th 2003.

The committee report would recommend how to implement the programme and suggest the series of timelines necessary to beginning the programme in 2004. ACLA would hope to have representation on this committee.

We are submitting a trial programme disk called Computer Assisted Septic System Tracking (CAAST) from a company in Texas. This programme appears to be able to provide the systems for a mandatory programme.

The cost is $1,325 US and additional work would be required to modify a few of the fields to accommodate postal codes and Ontario area codes.

There is no real downside risk in this proposal. Affordable technology is available to rectify most of the non-functioning systems. Low cost bank financing and/or government grants are available to those forced to update their systems.

Bill #81 has removed from our hands the ability to eliminate 90% of the pollution. Let's work on our 10%. This will put us in a better position to force our provincial government to tighten bill #81.

ACLA has committed to continue our stream testing programme in the future as a means of monitoring manure runoff and eventually testing the effectiveness of bill #81.

We appreciate the council's financial support of our stream testing efforts and hope council will continue to support the programme in 2003.

Thank you

Presented by Mike McElhone.