Mar 2014 Spotlight – Island County Environmental Health

by Maribeth Crandell

Island County Environmental Health is part of the county Public Health Department.

Our goal is to try to keep County residents and visitors safe from disease and help maintain a good quality of life. Mostly this involves a lot of work behind the scenes – inspecting wells, restaurants, schools, pools, recycling centers and compost businesses and snooping around in places people rarely want to go, like for instance, your septic system.

schematic diagram of relationship of house, septic system, well, and groundwater

Be careful. Every drain in your house flows into the septic system.

Living on an island where most of us get our drinking water from underground, we have to be extra careful about what we’re putting in the ground. During summer droughts our aquifer gets recharged from our septic systems.

Unfortunately, we’re often the bearers of bad news, like “Your septic system has failed”. But we also try to provide resources, “We can help you get a low interest loan to fix it.” We have new technology to help us track information. Still we value face to face communication with the public.

picture of sewage on a drain field

Sewage on the ground over your drain field is a sure sign of septic system failure.

Lately we’ve been hosting Science While Sipping pub talks to help people better understand how to live with septic systems and the importance to maintaining them. In that informal setting we try to help people with specific problems. Our next talk is at Spotted Dog Winery on March 12 on Maxwelton Road. Recent efforts by the County and other ECO-Net organizations resulted in 75% of the 659 septic systems in the Maxwelton watershed having been inspected, and if necessary, pumped or repaired. Fifteen of twenty failed septic systems were fixed. And we’re still working in this watershed.

We offer free Septic 101 classes both online and in person. Septic System inspections are required by State and local laws. If you have a basic gravity system and don’t live in a designated critical area, you could get certified to inspect your own septic system by taking Septic 101 and 201 and paying a $25 fee. For more information visit:

This summer we’re launching our Host a HOST program. HOST stands for Home Owners Septic Training and if you host one at your home or attend one at your neighbor’s, your name will be entered to win $100 rebate on your next inspection or the installation of risers and lids (that will make it quicker and easier to conduct inspections in the future). Our first Host a HOST program will be held at Lagoon Point on June 28. Call 360-678-7914 to RSVP.

We spoke with a group of Realtors in February about how septic systems impact home sales. While you can sell a house with a failed septic system, the new owner will not be able to occupy the residence until it’s fixed. In new construction, homes need to plan for an ample septic system based on the number of bedrooms, and have a reserve area. Once a septic system is in, changes to the property, like putting a driveway, parking area or a garden over the drain field, could cause a system to fail.

Septic Systems are mostly out of sight but they should not be out of mind.

Some images behind the scenes: