By Susan Bromley
– Nearly one-third of septic systems in the village are at-risk of failure.
This is far above the average in the county and enough to prompt a recommendation for a septic ordinance and maintenance plan from Randy Gregory, who issued a septic risk assessment at the village council’s March 27 meeting.
But even more alarming to village officials are 36 septic systems, about 7 percent of the total systems in the village, that have been identified as the highest risk, all located near Kearsley Creek, in areas with a high water table.
“Before we draft any ordinance, we want to highlight and focus on these 36 homes,” said Village Manager David Trent on Tuesday.
“I would like to invite these homeowners into a meeting with our consultant and have them hear firsthand the data analysis that he has compiled, why their particular home is of highest concern at this juncture and gain their support in allowing us to do a visual inspection of their property.”
The village council approved in September hiring Gregory, founder of Enviro Assist, to do a risk assessment of septic systems in the village at a cost not to exceed $1,750. The village council wanted the assessment done to aid them in possibly crafting a septic ordinance to govern maintenance of systems in the village. They began discussing the ordinance after voters in 2015 overwhelmingly defeated a proposal to have village officials enter into a contract with Oakland County for the issuance of bonds in the amount of an estimated $20,000,000 toward the acquisition and construction of sewage disposal facilities. Under the proposal, village officials would have had the ability to levy a special assessment of approximately $25,550 on each resident in the village, and more on school facilities and certain commercial properties.
Gregory compiled public records data from the village as well as Oakland County for his risk assessment, which provided dates of septic system construction, as well as materials used and design of systems, allowing him to establish risk. He used four time frames— systems built prior to 1971; those from 1971-1980; 1980-1995; and 1995-present. Septic systems constructed in the latter timeframe had much more attention given to watertables, while those constructed earlier did not, Gregory noted in the completed risk assessment he presented to the village council last month.
Commercial systems were not included in the assessment, as the requirements for them are different than for residences. Records for 172 sites in the assessment area were not available. Gregory worked on the assumption that septic systems for those homes were built during the period the houses were built.
In total, 469 sites were included in the village septic system risk assessment, with 151 deemed at risk. Of those at risk, 92 were constructed prior to 1971; 17 between 1971 and 1979; 33 between 1980 and 1995; and nine since 1996.
“Special attention was given to areas where the seasonal water table is within 24 inches of grade,” he wrote. “Septic systems installed in those areas will directly contaminate shallow groundwater unless they are built substantially above grade. Thirty-six septic systems were identified in those areas. It is reasonable to suspect that these systems are routinely failing by way of groundwater contamination. In addition, those systems are at risk for sewage backing up into homes, surfacing on the ground, and flowing into surface water.”
Gregory noted in his report that the number of septic systems in failure mode is in constant flux due to water usage in a home, as well as seasonal changes of water tables and that his assessment was intended to identify susceptibility of septic system failure and need for a management program to prevent failures.
Ortonville has a higher risk of septic system failure than other regions in the state, he continued, with Washtenaw County reporting 12 percent of septic systems failing or at risk of failure; Wayne County reporting the same at 15 percent; and some other communities in Oakland County having a 25 percent failure rate.
“With 32 percent of the residential septic systems in Ortonville at risk for failure, it would seem prudent to develop a care and maintenance program for septic systems at this time,” concluded Gregory. “A management program should include methods to identify failing systems, identify individual system deficiencies, and estimate system capacities. Systems that are in high groundwater areas pose the most immediate health hazard risk and perhaps should be prioritized. Most importantly, the program should be educational for homeowners. Septic systems at risk for failure can usually be kept in good working order with proper care, but many homeowners exacerbate problems unknowingly.”
Trent hopes to have Gregory bring a proposal to the council at their next meeting, set for 7 p.m., April 24, at the township offices, 395 Mill St. This proposal would involve Gregory meeting with the 36 property owners who are at most risk of septic failure.
“I think we take this a step at a time,” said Trent. “A septic ordinance might still be in order for the rest of the village, but evaluating these 36 high risk properties is the next prudent step to take. That will be my recommendation to council.”