Newly enacted septic regulations will give homeowners more design options and require septic systems to be inspected whenever a home is sold to help protect groundwater.
The San Juan Basin Public Health board adopted rules last week which will be enforced in La Plata, Archuleta and San Juan counties.
The new rules will take effect on Jan. 1, except for the rule on mandatory inspections, which will be required after Jan. 1, 2019, Surface and Drinking Water Manager Brian Devine said.
The inspections could cost between $400 and $600, but the true cost will depend on what private inspectors choose to charge, he said.
The health department is waiting a year to require inspections so that it can educate the community and inspectors.
“We need some time to offer the training for those inspectors and get a nice healthy number of inspectors up and running,” Devine said.
There is currently few certified inspectors in the area, but there is interest from home inspectors, companies that pump out septic tanks and others, he said.
Requiring inspections is a reliable way to identify failing systems to help protect groundwater and ensure a homebuyer is aware of any problems the system might have, he said.
Failing systems can introduce bacteria and pathogens into the environment, he said.
There are about 18,000 permitted septic systems in La Plata, Archuleta and San Juan counties and a small portion of Hinsdale County. The health department has issued about 300 new permits so far this year, Devine said.
He estimates the department issued less than 30 permits to repair septic systems this year, but he expects that number will increase once inspections are required.
Some of the other major regulation changes will allow tiny homes to have smaller septic systems and for traditional homes to have smaller non-conventional septic systems that must be regularly maintained. The changes will also require residents to get permits when they use low-cost interventions on a septic system.
The non-conventional systems actively treat the water instead of relying on the interaction of waste, bacteria and oxygen, which is passive.
Septic systems that actively treat the water can have smaller leach fields.
However, if they fail, a lower-quality effluent flows into a smaller leach field.
Those who desire to install one of these systems will have to prove to the department they have a maintenance contract with a qualified service provider and inform the department about when those contracts will expire.
Residents were likely using the low-cost interventions for septic systems previously, but requiring permits will allow the department to track malfunctioning systems.
There are many different types of low-cost interventions that prevent a homeowner from having to pay for a major repair or replacement, he said.
For example, bacterial solutions will eat biological material blocking a septic system and allow water to flow into the soil again, he said.