Tips for Septic Systems
It's the system of choice for at least one out of every three new homes built in Texas...an On-Site Sewage Facility (OSSF), commonly called a "septic system." The sudden increase of new housing in suburban and once-rural areas means that more Texas households than ever depend on an OSSF for treatment and disposal of domestic sewage. In recent years, as many as 50,000 new systems have been permitted annually, most in high growth areas of the state. New approaches to designing and overseeing OSSFs ensure systems do their job properly and protect their environment.
Site evaluations determine local conditions and determine the design of OSSFs. In many parts of Texas, soil analyses are ruling out conventional systems where liquids are separated from solids in the septic tank and then spread throughout the drainfield by means of underground pipes or other proprietary products. Organic wastes are treated as the liquids percolate through the soil. But most soils in Texas can't properly absorb pollutants, so alternative treatment methods are required.
Almost all OSSFs must have a permit prior to any construction, installation, repair, extension, or other alteration. Any work on an OSSF must be handled by a licensed installer or directly by the homeowner. If someone is paid for any part of the process, that person must be licensed by the state.
Who's checking to make sure these requirements are followed? In most areas of the state, local authorities have taken on the responsibility for ensuring that OSSFs in their area comply with all state requirements. Many local governments are "authorized agents" (AA) of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for administering the OSSF Program. Many times, the AA has a "designated representative" (DR) to assist them with their responsibilities, which include reviewing plans for constructing, altering, extending or repairing each OSSF; issuing permits; and inspecting system installation.
Authorized agents and representatives also respond to complaints to ensure that an OSSF meets minimum standards. If problems are found, the system owner normally has 30 days in which to make substantial progress on remedying the situation. After that, the agent can file a criminal complaint with the local justice of the peace.
OSSFs can handle only domestic sewage. Industrial or hazardous waste will ruin an OSSF by literally killing the bacteria that break down the biosolids. Remember: septic systems are designed to handle human waste, not chemicals.
The TCEQ's Small Business and Local Government Assistance Section offers free, confidential help to small businesses and local governments working to comply with state environmental regulations. Call us at 1-800-447-2827.