Onsite Sewage System Roles & Responsibilities in a Nutshell
Wastewater Treatment Systems: Who is Responsible for What?
When installing an onsite sewage treatment system there are several issues that need to be taken into account in order to ensure that sewage is safely treated and disposed of to prevent any potential health hazards from arising. But whose responsibility is it to ensure the system doesn’t contaminate the environment? The answer to that question is not so straight-forward, as accountability for the safe treatment and disposal of sewage is shared by the health authority, the authorized onsite wastewater practitioner and the homeowner. The roles and responsibilities of each party are outlined below.
The Homeowner’s Responsibilities in Managing Their Septic System
All sewage produced by a household must be discharged into a municipal sewage system, approved holding tank, or an onsite sewage treatment system that meets the safety requirements outlined by the Sewage System Regulation. A homeowner may construct a septic wastewater treatment system on their plot under the guidance and supervision of a registered onsite wastewater practitioner or authorized professional. The homeowner must engage the services of an authorized practitioner with regards to the construction/installation and maintenance of the wastewater treatment system.
Essentially, it is the owner’s responsibility to ensure that any septic system installed on their property does not pose an environmental or public health risk.
More specifically, it’s the owner’s responsibility to ensure that the sewage treatment system is used according to the way it was designed to operate as per the documents filed with the health authority, and is maintained according to the maintenance plan outlined by the authorized wastewater practitioner. The system must be well maintained, and homeowners need to keep a record of both routine maintenance and repair work undertaken, and this needs to be supervised by an authorized professional.
Role and Responsibility of the Authorized Wastewater Practitioner
The authorized wastewater practitioner is a professional who has the necessary qualifications/skills and is registered with the Technologists and Technicians of British Columbia as an onsite wastewater practitioner in one or more of the categories outlined below:
- System Planner — this practitioner’s key role and responsibilities are to conduct a site evaluation and assess the needs of the household (for example, calculate estimated daily flow rates), and to design an appropriate wastewater system that meets both the site limitations and homeowners needs in accordance with the standards outlined by the Sewage System Regulation. Once the practitioner has done so, it is their responsibility to submit all plans, diagrams and supporting documents (including a maintenance plan for the completed system), together with the associated fee, to the health authority for approval.
- System Installer — this practitioner’s role is to install a septic system according to best practices and standards outlined by the Septic System Regulation.
- Maintenance Provider — this practitioner is responsible for maintaining an onsite wastewater treatment system.
A practitioner’s responsibilities will be limited to the role they are fulfilling, according to their level of authorization. A practitioner that is registered in all three categories is authorized to fulfil all roles, and in such a case will be responsible for all three areas, whereas a practitioner registered in one area will only be authorized to fulfil that role, and consequently his responsibilities will only be limited to that role.
Role of the Health Authority with Onsite Sewage Systems
The Health Authority is the overseeing administrative and regulatory body whose primary role is to ensure that onsite wastewater treatment systems comply with safety standards and don’t pose a potential public health hazard. The weapon that they use to achieve this is the Sewage System Regulation (SSR), which they are responsible for administering and enforcing.
Any new onsite wastewater system must comply with the standards documented by the SSR before a permit will be issued to approve its construction. As such, the Health Authority accepts all filing documents related to sewage systems, as well as letters of certification confirming the wastewater practitioner is authorized to conduct the work in question or to supervise these activities.
Besides the administrative role, the Health Authority also serves the role of enforcer. Their responsibilities include ensuring onsite wastewater systems comply with health standards, investigating system failures, responding to any complaints received regarding potential health hazards and ensuring that the parties responsible take corrective measures to alleviate the health risks, for example, by issuing an order requiring compliance, usually within a specified time-frame.
As we can see, the responsibility for onsite wastewater treatment is shared by several parties, each of which has their own role and responsibilities to fulfil in order to ensure sewage generated by the home does not pose a threat to the environment or to human health.
Ultimately, the health authority is the watchdog that administers all permit applications and provides guidelines and standards that need to be complied with to prevent environmental contamination from wastewater treatment systems. The relative authorized wastewater practitioner is responsible for designing, installing and/or maintaining a wastewater treatment system that is adequate for the site conditions and the household’s needs, and for filing all necessary documentation pertaining to the onsite wastewater treatment system with the health authority. Once the system is installed, the homeowner must ensure that it is used according to the limitations of its design and that it is correctly and routinely maintained to prevent the system from failing.