Sewage is generally classified into two categories. The first category is storm sewage, sometimes called stormwater sewage. This is sewage that results from naturally occurring rainfall. The catch basins seen in the countryside and the culverts seen in many cities and villages are designed to collect generally clean rainwater and permanently deposit that water into a nearby body of water or waterway, like a river or lake. There is generally no treatment of stormwater sewage before it is deposited into the environment.
In contrast, sanitary sewage is sewage from household and business processes that needs to be cleaned before being released into a local waterway or body of water. This includes the water that drains from our kitchen sinks, bathrooms and clothes washers. This also includes the discharge from our toilets and the liquids resulting after various manufacturing processes.
Traditionally, many municipalities did not separate storm sewage from sanitary sewage. Those communities typically cleaned all sewage before permanently discharging it into the environment. Obviously, as communities got more populous and rainfall became less frequent but heavier (i.e. goose-drowners), municipal sewage cleaning systems could not “keep up,” resulting in occasions of sanitary sewage mixed with storm sewage being discharged into the environment without treatment.
This concern led many communities over the last few decades to engage in “sewer separation,” which allowed the local sewage treatment plant to only treat sanitary sewage allowing the storm sewage to be immediately directed to a proper place (off roadways and away from homes, for example) without treatment.
As village and city sewer separation projects were completed, attention was directed to minimizing sanitary sewage discharge from existing, rural residences. These older systems often consist of a septic tank that the sanitary sewage would enter, allowing solids to fall to the bottom of the tank and allowing clean/cleaner liquid to “drain off” the top of the septic tank into local waterways. Obviously, this is not the most effective way to protect the environment from sanitary sewage.
However, until about a decade ago, when it came to rural septic systems, the practice was to let sleeping dogs lie. If sanitary sewage was found in a waterway, local government officials would track back to the source of the contamination and order improvements to the offending septic system.
By 2015, the Ohio Department of Health had issued a set of regulations that allowed local health departments to create a process of checking every rural septic system every several years. Although local health departments cannot just show up to inspect a system, local health departments are empowered to require every homeowner to make application (invite) the health department to either inspect or allow another qualified person inspect the system.
In our region, health departments have rolled out the application/invitation requirements in a measured manner over several years. Upon application, a private homeowner not on a public sanitary septic system must have the homeowner’s system checked by the health department or a private person on the health department’s approved list. If the system is effective, a permit is issued by the health department, which permit avoids a new inspection (unless a complaint of sanitary sewage from that system is received) for five years. Obviously, there are fees for private inspections and the permit.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.