The Onsite Operation & Maintenance (O&M) program is a State mandated program to ensure that septic systems are being used and maintained in a way that is safe for public health. A septic system needs regular checking and maintenance to avoid costly repairs, just like your car or your house. The Washington State 2005 onsite septic system regulations (WAC 246-272A) state that septic system owners shall “assure a complete evaluation of the system components to determine functionality, maintenance needs, and compliance with regulations and any permits.” State regulations require that homeowners inspect and maintain their septic system to ensure it is functioning properly. A Grant from the Department of Ecology helped produce a brochure (1.4MB PDF) and poster to inform the public about State of Washington inspection requirements.
When did the State septic system inspection requirements take effect?
The State regulations took effect on July 1, 2007. Clallam County code was revised in 2008 to incorporate the new requirements as well as recommendations from citizens and industry in the Clallam County On-site Septic System Management Plan (1.4MB PDF without maps or 8.6MB PDF with maps for high speed internet connections). However, Clallam County will not actively enforce the inspection requirement until there is adequate capacity in the County’s Environmental Health Services (EH) and the septic system industry to meet this new demand for service. EH is working with both the industry and other jurisdictions in the region to build capacity for needed services including homeowner education programs.
Clallam County works with local on-site professionals on these main elements of the County O&M program:
All about inspections:
Clallam County Environmental Health (EH) commonly refers to these evaluations as septic system maintenance “system status reports" involving specific steps depending on the type of system. The new state regulations require that homeowners inspect and maintain their septic system to ensure it is functioning properly. At a minimum, this means that an owner of a traditional gravity septic system must have it properly inspected at least once every 3 years. Alternative systems (those with pumps) must be inspected every year. By the way, simply pumping the tank – while important – is not adequate unless all system components are professionally evaluated as well.
What makes up a professional septic system maintenance inspection and system status report?
Septic system inspections and maintenance activities require that there is access available to view and inspect both your tank and the drainfield. A professional inspection may involve locating and uncovering the various parts of the septic system in addition to the steps below. The septic tank professional inspection includes the following steps:
- Check tank for leaks or groundwater intrusion
- Check baffles
- Check and clean baffle screen
- Measure scum
- Measure sludge
- Check color and odor
- Look for back-up stains
- Check pump tank (floats and effluent pump)
- If problems are noted or a tank needs pumping, the inspector will tell you
Drainfield professional inspections should include the following steps:
- Look for any mushy spots
- Check if D-box is level (conventional gravity designs only)
- Check D-box for solids and equal flow
- Flush drainfield pipes (if needed, pressurized designs only)
- Check pump tank (pressurized systems) floats and pumps
- Check electrical controls and alarms
- Pressure test
- If any problems are noted, the inspector will recommend solutions
Once the inspection is completed, maintenance providers report their findings to Clallam County Environmental Health. The system status inspection report is entered into the main database which is used to track septic system records for the County.
Clallam County professional maintenance providers are required to be licensed to be able to inspect and maintain septic systems in Clallam County. Maintenance providers are required to pass a test, have demonstrated knowledge of septic systems and be bonded and insured. Maintenance Providers are licensed to inspect all types of systems including conventional gravity flow systems, pressurized systems and other alternative type systems.
Septic system designers are licensed by the State of Washington Department of Licensing. To be licensed,
they must undergo certain training, give evidence of experience in onsite
design, and pass an exam. Anyone licensed by the State of Washington may design
or inspect septic systems in Clallam County.
The Environmental Health Services created a homeowners’ guide to septic systems called 'Take Care of Your Septic' (2.1 MB PDF) available online, that explains how they work, and gives useful tips for maintaining them. We also offer FREE Septics 101 classes, both in person and online, for people who have septic systems, or anyone else who is interested in learning about them. O&M is the main topic of a newsletter we've been sending to all septic system owners, called the "Clean Water Herald, Septics Edition". You may also wish to download this PDF document about Installing Access Risers borrowed, in part, from Thurston County Environmental Health, to help facilitate frequent Operation and Maintenance inspections.
Homeowner Do-It-Yourself Inspection Program (Septics 201)
Can I inspect my septic system myself?
During the public process for developing Clallam County’s Onsite Septic System Management Plan, many homeowners expressed an interest in being trained to inspect their own septic system. As a result of this feedback and at the Onsite Septic System Work Group's suggestion, Environmental Health has developed a homeowner “do it yourself” inspection certification program called Septics 201. To see if your septic system qualifies for you to be able to receive training to do your own septic system inspection in Clallam County, read the Summary of Septic System Inspection Requirements. To learn more about this program please visit our Septics 201: Homeowner Do-It-Yourself (DIY) informational web page.
Operation and Maintenance agreements are required for proprietary systems (currently Aerobic Treatment Units, Biofilters and some Drip Systems). This agreement is between a system owner and an approved Maintenance Provider, certifying that the system will be inspected and maintained. The Maintenance Provider agrees to provide regular inspections and maintenance recommendations, and the owner agrees to maintain the system with proper usage and by following the specialist’s recommendations. Clallam County Onsite Program maintains a list of licensed Maintenance Providers. Please be aware that not all Maintenance Providers are able to inspect proprietary systems. Contact Environmental Health at (360)417-2506 for a list of those providers who are currently able to inspect proprietary systems.
Onsite Septic System Inspection Status Tracking
The Department of Health (DOH) requires EH to track and report on the inspection status of septic systems under our jurisdiction. Numerous grant projects over the past eight years have been helping us improve our database to better perform those duties. Homeowners can now determine their septic system's inspection status by using the Online Permit System as described here or by visiting the Clallam County Onsite Septic System Inspection Status Map available online.
Return to the Onsite Septic Systems main page.