Are existing approvals for septic systems ("perc tests") still accepted, or are residents required to have perc tests on existing lots?
A site visit by the Health Department is always made when an application for a septic system permit is submitted. This is the case for both applications for new permits and for renewal of old permits.
The Health Department honors existing approvals and does not require a new percolation test or observation hole unless:
- something has changed about the property that would make the previous approval null and void such as use of the previously approved drainfield area to bury stumps or debris, placement of a new well too close to the previously approved drainfield area, etc, or
- new facts come to light such as standing water in the drainfield area or observation pit, discovery of significant rock outcrops in the drainfield area, discovery of previously unlocated wells near the drainfield area, etc, that indicate that installation of the previously approved drainfield would create a health hazard, or
- the location of the previously approved drainfield site can not be accurately determined.
In the past year, the Jefferson County Health Department has been able to issue a septic system permit on every single lot that has previously had a septic system permit or for which the drainfield area was shown on a recorded subdivision plat. In some cases, in order to address problems encountered in the permit renewal process, new permits have adjusted the location of drainfields or specified different treatment technologies.
Does the septic system appeals process result in months of delays?
State code specifies the time frames in the appeals process. These time frames can not be altered by the Board of Health. However, there is nothing to prevent an appeal hearing from being held before the end of the 45-day time frame specified by state law. The only reason a hearing would be delayed longer than 45 days is at the applicant’s request.
Are residents with failing septic systems required to install expensive unconventional septic systems in order to repair their systems?
As with new septic systems, site and soil conditions dictate whether conventional or unconventional septic systems are required according to the state regulations. Where there is insufficient area for a conventional septic system or where there is less than 54” of good soil above rock or seasonal water table, unconventional septic systems may be required. State regulations require that septic system repairs meet the same standards as new septic systems unless the health hazard is “not correctable by methods set forth in Sewage Treatment and Collection System Design Standards”.
Do health department requirements for wells and septic systems exceed state standards?
The Board of Health, by the authority given it in state code, has adopted several requirements in excess of state standards. The most recent of these requirements was adopted in 2008. The additional requirements adopted by the Board of Health:
- Require septic tanks to be pumped within the 12 months prior to the completion of a Home Loan Evaluation,
- Prohibit the creation of new lots where the well or septic system is located outside the boundaries of the lot,
- Require septic reserve areas of at least 20,000* square feet for lots created after November 1, 2008, and
- Require that all septic systems be installed by a WV Certified Septic System Installer.
No other requirements in excess of state standards are being imposed on septic systems in Jefferson County.
*Update: The Board of Health voted on September 11, 2020 to reduce the septic reserve area size to 10,000 square feet in certain cases. Full details can be found in our Local Rules, Policies, and Procedures.
Are permit holders with valid septic system construction permits being required to delay system installation?
During periods of wet weather (and immediately thereafter) when the soil is saturated the Health Department prohibits the installation of septic systems. The use of heavy equipment on a drainfield site when the soil is saturated will result in compaction of the soil, destruction of the soil’s natural structure, and the loss of the soil’s percolation capacity. Drainfields installed when the soil is beyond its plastic limit are likely to fail because of the damage done to the soil.
Has the number of lots where an application for a septic system has been denied increased 200%?
The Health Department does not keep precise statistics on the number of applications approved or denied so this is clearly a made up statistic. However, fewer than ten applications for septic systems were denied in 2018.
Are residents being required to install expensive unconventional (low pressure piping, drip irrigation, Eljen sand filter, or sand mound) septic systems?
Site and soil conditions dictate whether conventional or unconventional septic systems are required according to the requirements of state regulations. Where there is insufficient area for a conventional septic system or where there is less than 54” of good soil above rock or seasonal water table, unconventional septic systems are required by state regulation.
Is the Health Department refusing to conduct well and septic evaluations for home loans? (AKA Home Loan Evaluations, or HLE's)
The Jefferson County Health Department has conducted HLEs for many years and continues to do so even though it is not a state-mandated environmental health program. A number of private contractors also provide this service to the real estate community. Last summer, due to the shortage of sanitarians in the county, it sometimes took almost 30 days for HLEs to be completed by the Health Department. Currently it is usually less than 10 days.
It should be noted that the Health Department by state policy is prohibited from doing an HLE inspection unless the house has been continuously occupied for the previous 30 days. This is because without regular wastewater flow into the septic system, it is unlikely that a malfunctioning septic system would be identified by an HLE inspection.
Where a house has not been continuously occupied for the previous 30 days, the Health Department recommends that a WV Certified Septic System Installer be employed to inspect the septic system. The installer should uncover and inspect any septic tanks, pump chambers, distribution boxes, and treatment units and, if necessary, repair them. The condition of the drainfield lines should be examined by probing them, observing them through observation ports, inserting a camera into the lines, or uncovering portions of them. The septic tank must be pumped if it has not been pumped within the previous twelve months.
Is the Health Department refusing to conduct well and septic evaluations (HLEs) for homes that have been destroyed by demolition, fire, or other disaster?
The Health Department by state policy is specifically prohibited from doing an HLE inspection unless the house has been continuously occupied for the previous 30 days and dye can be flushed through the plumbing system. This is because, without regular wastewater flow into the septic system, it is unlikely that a malfunctioning septic system would be identified by an HLE inspection.
When a house has been destroyed, the Health Department recommends that a WV Certified Septic System Installer be employed to inspect the septic system. The installer should uncover and inspect any septic tanks, pump chambers, distribution boxes, and treatment units and, if necessary, repair them. The condition of the drainfield lines should be examined by probing them, observing them through observation ports, inserting a camera into the lines, or uncovering portions of them. The septic tank should be pumped if it has not been pumped within the previous twelve months. A report of the septic system installer’s findings should be submitted to the Health Department.
Similarly, when a house has been destroyed, a well driller licensed in West Virginia should be employed to inspect the condition of the well since the Health Department does not have equipment to obtain a water sample once the house is gone. The well driller should assure that the water line from the well has been capped to prevent the entry of contaminants and should inspect the integrity of the well casing and grout, the pitless adaptor, and any pad surrounding the wellhead. A water sample should be taken by the well driller. A sanitary survey should be conducted to assure that there are no contamination sources too close to the well. A report of the well driller’s findings should be submitted to the Health Department.
After obtaining the reports from the well driller and septic installer, a Health Department sanitarian can write a letter to the building official (based on these two reports) indicating if the existing well and septic system are safe and adequate for construction of a new house.
Is the Health Department refusing to conduct well and septic evaluations for homeowners requesting to add bedrooms to existing homes?
State regulations require a septic system application from homeowners requesting to add bedrooms to existing homes. An HLE is not what is required as additional bedrooms will require modification and expansion of the septic system.
In order to process the septic system application, the condition and adequacy of the existing septic system will need to be evaluated. Depending on how complete the records of the original septic system installation are, an observation hole and percolation test may be required. (There may be no records at all on file for some septic systems.)
Has the Health department required some residents to move their well?
The Health Department does not require that wells be moved unless they are drilled in the wrong place. For example, recently a well driller mistook a stake identifying the future location of a house for the place he was supposed to drill the well. The well ended up having to be abandoned because the well was too close to the drainfield site. A new well was drilled in the correct location.
Because of these types of errors, the Jefferson County Health Department now includes a site sketch with each well permit specifying exactly where the well is to be drilled. Jefferson County is the only county in West Virginia that takes this extra step to prevent these types of problems.
Sometimes when a property owner wants to split an existing lot into two or more lots they choose to abandon a well in order to make additional areas available for septic reserve areas and maximize the number of developable lots. However, the Health Department never compels a property owner to abandon an existing approved well in order to facilitate development of adjacent properties.
Are residents waiting months for septic permits and approvals?
In April 2018 the Jefferson County Health Department lost its entire environmental health staff. From May, 2018, through February, 2019, one part-time employee with occasional help from state sanitarians from Charleston tried to keep up with the workload in the septic program. At times there were delays in septic permits and approvals due to the extreme shortage of trained sanitarians.
There are now four fully-trained sanitarians in Jefferson County who are able to issue septic system permits and approvals. Applicants for septic system permits typically wait less than a week for site visits by a sanitarian. State regulations require septic system applications to be processed within 21 business days.
It should be noted that delays in processing septic system applications are often caused by the applicants themselves when their application is incomplete, they have not paid the required permit fees, the property lines are not marked, the proposed locations of the well, house, and drainfield are not marked, the percolation test has not been completed, or an observation hole has not been dug.