SEPTAGE –
It’s Everyone’s Problem

By Jack Ellis

The next wallop that Walkerton will inflict on your wallet is already bubbling away outside your house or cottage: septage.

Among other Walkerton follow-on actions you may already be aware of, the Ontario government passed a Nutrient Management Act in 2002, with implementation to follow over several years. While mainly aimed at animal waste from large farms, this Act also defines septage – what the truck drives away with after your septic tank has been pumped out – as a “nutrient”.

The hauler normally disposes of your septage either by spreading it on farmland as fertilizer or by depositing it in a septage disposal site to decompose naturally. The new Nutrient Management Act regulations rule out farmland spreading completely as of December 31st of this year.

All parties agree that the spreading of raw septage on agricultural lands should stop. They disagree on what the alternative should be.

Current septage disposal site licences will likely not be renewed when the licence expires. Haulers will then face stiff regulations requiring that the facilities be cleaned out, then lined, fenced, signed and….insured. Aside from the huge problem of how to finance the expense of rebuilding their septage facilities, that last requirement is a deal-breaker for many in the private sector: insurance is almost impossible to get!

So where is the septage from Ontario’s two million septic tanks supposed to go? The government would like it to go to municipal sewage treatment plants.

Slight problem number one: septage is so concentrated that a normal sewage treatment plant can only take septage up to about 2% of their operating flow. Slight problem number two: in much of rural Ontario, the hauling distance to any sewage treatment plant is simply unreasonable. Slight problem number three: of all the sewage treatment plants in our immediate area – Penetanguishene, Midland, Victoria Harbour, Port McNicoll, Wasaga Beach, Barrie – only Midland has been willing to take ANY septage.

Midland’s sewage plant received special funding to add a receiving facility to take septage, but the treatment of landfill leachate may use up part of the septage capacity. Their current charge, which was increased just this spring, is $208 per 1000 gallons of septage. The charge is reviewed annually, and may rise significantly in the near future; if capacity is available, that is.

What is all this likely to do to the cost of pumping your septic? The “good old days” of $25 pump outs are now 30 years in the past! The typical recent cost of $120 may soon be only a fond memory. Added disposal costs must be passed through by the pumping company – you will pay!

Can $500 pump outs be avoided in future?
What are some environmentally-friendly and economically sensible solutions?

First, all of us in Tiny must recognize that we are part of the problem. In Tiny, every farm, business and household – seasonal or permanent – flushes into a septic tank. We all create the gunky, gooey septage that eventually comes out. It must go somewhere! We all must support a solution for Tiny!

Second, the municipality must get involved, either alone or in conjunction with municipal neighbours. Municipalities eagerly approve development, concerning themselves mainly with water availability. If rules for septic system construction are followed, they see no problem. As they happily collect the taxes, they seem not to ask: where will the future septage go?

Tiny might consider doing what Muskoka District did many years ago: create and operate septage disposal sites of its own. There, septage is screened into a first lagoon for evaporation and settlement, then filtered into a second lagoon where further evaporation takes place and the residue is chemically treated.

Alternatively, a public-private partnership between the municipality and private firms could be devised to construct and operate septage facilities, which are likely to cost about $1 million each to build.

The province recently funded a $50,000 study in Grey County to seek a septage solution. The study recommended spending $8 million each for three existing sewage plants to be upgraded to take septage.

The District of Muskoka has just received $350,000 from the federal government’s Green Municipal Fund for a biosolids composting pilot study plant. This $800,000 facility will compost sludge from sewage plants, but not septage. Could this initiative give other municipalities some ideas for septage funding sources?

Presentations on septage have been made to Tiny’s Council and to the Simcoe County Warden. Robert Murrell of Pepi Sewage Disposal Services in Port Severn and Roger Winter of Winter’s Sanitation in Barrie - the current president of the Ontario Association of Sewage Industry Services (OASIS) - but no action has yet been taken on the septage problem.

What can you do?
You can rip out your septic system and install an outhouse or a composting toilet, thus opting out of the septage problem. Not many households will be willing to go that far.
Or, you can advocate to Tiny Council that they take immediate action to create a septage receiving facility.

You might check out some internet resources on the situation:
Bill 81, the Nutrient Management Act, is at
http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/DBLaws/Statutes/English/02n04_e.htm
The rather sweeping regulations under the Act are at
http://www.elaws.gov.on.ca/DBLaws/Source/Regs/English/2003/R03267_e.htm

The opinions of those in the industry may be found on the OASIS website: http://www.oasisontario.on.ca

One thing is certain: the need for a solution cannot be pooh-poohed forever!