Septic Systems 101
by Denis Orendt, Executive Director, Ontario Onsite Wastewater Association
Life at many cottages is starting to mirror that in the city with more appliances added to the cottage for comfort, but when it comes to flushing everything down the drain the cottage owner must be aware that being on a septic system is not like being in the city.
Under the Ontario Building Code, as a cottage owner you are responsible for your system's performance and maintenance. If you take good care of your system, you will save yourself the time, money and worries involved in replacing a failed system. Failed systems can be hazardous to the environment and your pocketbook. They can degrade water supplies and reduce your property's value. Here are some valuable tips to ensure the longevity of your system.
There are minimum separation distances surrounding your system and other home and yard items that are required under the Ontario Building Code. Remembering these distances and planning your lot accordingly will lead to a healthier, longer-lasting system. Some municipalities have specific requirements for cottages and residences on the lake. Check with your local building official for more information.
Have your system inspected by a licensed and qualified person. This can save you thousands of dollars should your system require a repair rather than a complete replacement.
Treatment technology for both water and sewage is being used more and more where there are water courses, lakes, rivers, streams and creeks. Some people will not hesitate to spend money on the interior of their cottage. Windows, doors and dormers can all be added or changed, but the real value in the property starts with water quality and septic systems.
Many cottagers are now installing UV systems for water treatment and also looking at technology for their septic systems. Many of today's septic treatment systems can reduce nitrogen levels that can affect the quality of your shoreline. This is good for both the homeowner and the environment. These systems require yearly maintenance as required under the Ontario Building Code.
Under new legislation the Minister of the Environment is planning a re-inspection program for septic systems across Ontario in order to protect our water resources. Regulations for inspection may fall under the Ontario Building Code. Many municipalities are currently undetaking a re-inspection program prior to the government implementing this as law.
Planning on selling or purchasing a cottage? Not sure if your septic system is working? Check the Ontario Onsite Wastewater Association (OOWA) website (http://www.oowa.org) and go to the "Ask the Expert" section to find a qualified and certified septic professional in your area.
When having a large family function at the cottage contact your local septic pumper or Port-A-Potty rental company and bring in some portable toilets. This will save you from overloading your septic system. Remember that the only things to go into your septic system are those that you put in your mouth.
This article is one of many helpful articles for cottagers to be found in the Federation of Ontario Cottagers' Associations' publication "Take the Plunge" (A Guide to Stewardship of Ontario's Waters). It is available for purchase by contacting the association by phone at 705-749-3622 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org