Septic systems are fairly common in the United States. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates one in five homes use either an individual or small community-based septic system for wastewater treatment. When properly used, these systems are effective and safe options to dispose of waste and preserve water resources.
However, a poorly maintained or failing septic system can result in serious issues, including concerns for public safety. In these situations, wastewater could reach the surface or contaminate groundwater leading to potential exposure to bacteria and viruses. Common signs of issues include a bright and spongy type of grass over the septic drain field site, gurgling sounds within the plumbing system and a bad odor.
Most states and local health departments have regulations in place to help mitigate the risks of these problems. These regulations can include guidelines to help reduce the risk of too much nitrogen or phosphorus within the area around the system. This is generally achieved with a soil assessment and stipulations with setback distances from nearby property lines and surface waters.
Like any other system, septic systems have an operational lifetime and require maintenance and eventual replacement. These considerations should be part of due diligence before moving forward with a land purchase or development deal on a proposed site. Landowners may find themselves navigating land use disputes either in the proposed use of a septic system or if dealing with a failed system. These issues can become costly. An attorney experienced in land use matters can review the issues and provide guidance to better ensure a favorable outcome.