Legal Issues - Septic Systems

If you are new to the country, your private septic system may be quite an awakening. Outside metro sanitation districts, your septic waste is your responsibility. It's a responsibility that can have dire environmental consequences far beyond the boundaries of your property. This is something you need to know about and pay attention to regularly. The process is pretty simple but the devil is in the details.

A standard septic system has a tank and a leachfield. The tank is place where solids have a chance to settle out of the water flow and it allows the remaining waste water to flow through into the leachfield where it percolates through the soil which cleans it. If the tank fills up with solids, at a certain point those solids will migrate into the leachfield and clog the pores in the soil. Then the liquid pools on the surface, or backs up into the building. Either way, the system has essentially failed and must be replaced. Pumping the tank out about every five years is the most recommended way of avoiding this problem. Pouring anaerobic bacteria (RidX, etc.) down the toilet really helps, too. But if you end up having to replace the sytem, it's really not cheap.

The only real reason for building a new septic system involves the building of a new house. In Colorado, you can't get a building permit without first going through the process of obtaining a septic permit. These days, part of the cost of that permit includes having the State Sanitarian come out to your property and perform a "perc test" (to determine if the soil is suitable for a leachfield). There are also regulations pertaining to the placement of the septic system in relation to the home and to the water well (or other water source) that feeds the home. You also have to consider the topography of your proposed building site and the proximity of any surface water features. There are a variety of subtleties in this process and the State Sanitarian is the person to help you sort all this out. (In New Mexico, you'll hire a Sanitary Engineer to perform these duties and it's his report you'll need to get your permit.)

As the property owner, you may install your own system. If you don't do it, then you must use a licensed contractor. This is also something where you really want to know all the costs and risks involved: my own septic system was first quoted as costing $3,500 complete. Then we ran into a layer of sandstone. In the end, I was lucky the layer of sandstone wasn't too thick but my final cost was $7,000 (back in 1995). Since then, Colorado has changed the rules and no longer allows the kind of system I have. logo
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