Through Nick Bernard
Kathryn Stasiuk Riddell, Rural Development Engineer at WSP, presented an update to the re-septic tank program to the Algonquin Highlands Council on December 9th. In 2017, the company was commissioned by the municipality to carry out a five-year program to re-purify septic tanks. Stasiuk Riddell’s report covered the inspections that took place in 2020 and 2021.
“I think we can all say that the last two years have been a little extraordinary in some ways,” she said. “In 2020, WSP ran a voluntary review program so those who took part in the program last year could do so voluntarily, and then returned to our traditional model in 2021, which included planning the inspection.” To increase overall participation. “
According to Stasiuk Riddell, participation actually increased in 2021. She said WSP has inspected 3,173 objects over the four years the re-inspection program has been running, with 966 inspections expected to be completed in 2022.
“Our results for 2020 and 2021 are generally on par with previous years results,” she said.
There have been a few exceptions, however, as WSP has seen an increase in Class 1 sewage systems, which are defined as toilets, outbuildings, composting toilets, and incineration toilets. Stasiuk Riddell also reported that WSP has seen an increase in class 2 sewage systems in certain zones defined as gray water sewer systems. This has led to an increase in corrective actions around these systems, ie actions aimed at correcting deficiencies in the installation of these systems. An increase in Class IV systems receiving corrective action has also been reported, but the number of defective systems receiving these measures remains small.
In response to Stasiuk Riddell’s report, Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt expressed her appreciation for the program and stressed that there was still much to be done.
“We found that there are still no illegally discharged surface and greywater systems, so things like this remain disappointing,” said Moffatt. “It’s great that we’re catching these people and fixing these problems … I would hope that people want to do more for the country and place they love so much.”
Deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen wondered what practices were in place to ensure remedial work was completed as this is required for many properties.
“I just want to make sure that we follow up on those who need remedial action and that they don’t fall by the wayside,” Danielsen said.
“Yes, everything is done in-house by our employees,” Moffatt replied. “And we have had conversations in the past when the program was first implemented and the size of the contract was shocking to some people and they said it was a creation of money.”
“We had to keep pointing out that there is a lot of work to come back afterwards to keep the program going,” Moffatt continued. “But yes, this work continues internally … We can probably get that from the staff at some point, right where we are with these internal tracking statistics.”
Councilor Lisa Barry, whose own plot of land was built in a sandy area, focused her question on the influence of topography on clustering, a decentralized type of wastewater treatment that collects wastewater from two or more homes.
“How does it work? [topography] affect clustering? ”She asked. “Does that increase the risk in areas with more gravel or more sand, for example?”
“So one of the differences in the risk factors that would be considered to be related to the soil type would be that the size of the soak bed is estimated for all the soak beds examined,” replied Stasiuk Riddell, referring to a map presented in the report. “If we know the approximate soil type of the area, we would use the soil type of the area to estimate whether the seepage bed is too small.”
“I think, based on the cluster analysis, the density piece is one of the greatest contributions to our risk representation,” continued Stasiuk Riddell. “We are seeing more pump tanks and more systems with filtered beds and also these smaller beds in these topographically different areas just to get our wastewater to a place that is high and dry from the water.”
Councilor Jennifer Dailloux’s question centered on educating the public about septic health after partnering with WSP in 2022 and whether there were any important important lessons to be taught to the public.
“I think one of the things that probably come to mind is the vegetation under seepage beds,” replied Stasiuk Riddell. “As we progressed through the program, I would have thought that more people would be aware that leach beds should be tended with short, well-manicured grass, and when you start growing that brush and growing … those dense roots can get into the bed and we don’t want this to damage your pipes and then, you know, end up needing a bed replacement. “
She said the cost would be higher to replace the seepage bed than to remove seedlings and other vegetation.
Robert Passmore, chief rural development engineer at WSP, said understanding what a septic system is and why it is necessary is critical to advancing public education.
“It’s about the whole aspect of seeing up close,” he said. “When you look at how a sewer system interacts with surface and groundwater … when you understand how it works and how it’s set up, you have to think about how to keep that investment going.”
He says maintaining a septic tank should be just as important as maintaining a roof.
“I see pretty much everywhere you go most of the time … you get into this situation where it’s just an afterthought, it’s not proactive,” said Passmore. “Our goal is to provide some literature and primers to help communities upload onto their website like a homeowner’s portal.”
“A tremendous number of people – even people who weren’t very happy with the inspection found it very interesting,” agreed Moffatt. “So this part of the education was partially integrated into the process.”
Stasiuk Riddell acknowledged the reluctance of local residents to participate in the renewed inspection program, but stressed that the program had helped educate local residents about the environmental impact of their sewage treatment plants.
“One of the most powerful things about any inspection program like this is to get knowledge of the systems throughout the township,” said Stasiuk Riddell. She said that knowing about failing systems will help ensure the safety of surface water and also maintain the property’s value, whether or not repairs and replacements need to be done.
“It certainly helps us understand these systems and get ahead of them,” she said. “I enjoyed noticing that while some citizens are reluctant to participate in the program, they get a lot out of it. I was thanked on site, I let people say, “I’m so glad you’re doing this program because I know it will be good for our lakes”. And I think that’s one of the effects I’m really proud of. “