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Feedback from Readers

Feedback from readers in response to Lloyd Kahn's letter in the Mother Earth News:

“I am working on an article for Mother Earth titled Organized Slime: The Great Septic Ripoff of the 21st Century. I would appreciate hearing from any readers who have direct or indirect experience in being required to install expensive septic systems, either as individuals, or as a community. In my part of the world (Northern California), engineers have manipulated wastewater regulations so that conventional tried and true gravity-powered septic systems are seldom approved, and high-tech, environmentally disruptive mound systems costing $30-50,000 are now the norm. I am trying to determine just how wide-spread this practice is and am especially interested where entire communities have been suddenly hit with new and expensive onsite wastewater requirements.” –Lloyd Kahn

Please send your own horror stories to

Caught your letter to the editor in Mother Earth News.

We live in Auburn Township, Geauga County, Ohio on 5 1/2 acres 220' x 1100 or so. We were about to replace our leach field in 2005 when we were advised of the New Regulations.

After the County Health inspector decided, we ended up with a spanking new Aeration System. They left one 500 gallon holding tank and added a 24 hour Aerator that flowed thru Chlorine to the double 6' x 10' sand filters and back to the Anti-Chlorine and then pumped it uphill to the road (some 300 feet) to the ditch so that it could flow down the road around the corner and back to where it would have come out had it flowed back 800 feet to our property line without an electrical sucking pump.

This thing runs 24 hours a day. And if the alarm goes off we have to shut down all showers, tubs and toilets.

Just what we needed, a city filtration plant on our property. We only paid $15,000, I've heard of $30-40,000.

Talk about overcomplicating laws, this takes the cake.

We see these butt-ugly sand boxes in the front yards of $300,000 houses. The next county to our west is Trumbull and all along Rt. 422 we see these lovely boxes.

Awaiting your article and got to order your book.

LoveYa with Prayers,
Joseph J Collura
Auburn Township, Ohio

Hi Lloyd, my name is Mary Braun and my husband and I relocated two counties down in Michigan to the town of Allen, in Hillsdale County. We previously lived in Pinckney in Livingston County, for 20 years and owned a lake acess home there and had the standard gravity fed septic system. Even when we replaced an old failing system in '99, Livingston County let us replace the old unit, with the same kind of slightly improved 2 pocket tank w drainfield. Cost was 4,900 because we had a nice 'loamy' lot.

But here in Hillsdale County, we see 'rampant' abuse of what they call 'code' requirements. You cannot drive anywhere, literally, without seeing the 'mound'. I've spent many hours in conversation with exasperated homeowners, fed up with eyesore's for yards, not to mention the costs of these systems force 'mortgage' refinancing for those who's homes were nearly paid off! **Something interesting I found out – the “people” making the decisions for “code” in our county, own the companies which profit from these required changes.

After seeing how homeowners were treated, be now rent instead of owning! Owning a home for 20 years, gave us the knowledge to see 'illegal and dangerous precedents were being set'...were in our mid to late forties and fear we'll never again 'own' a home, maybe that's what they want...Please email us back, and let us know what your finding out as people contact you!

Sincerely, Mary and Mike Braun

Hi there Lloyd!

I came across your letter about expensive septic designs in this month's Mother Earth issue· I had to laugh because I'm in the process of trying to design a septic system for a new piece of land that I just bought. I experienced just what you mentioned in your letter·

Back in September I hired a consulting company in central Vermont to come out and dig some test pits and design a septic system for me. The test pits were dug and I was on site with them for the process. As a professional in the environmental field, I do have a little bit of soil's background so it was interesting to see how they defined soil horizons· I concurred with much of their soil analysis although I did silently question several of the measurements (I wasn't comfortable enough with my knowledge to voice my skepticism). A very porous site was identified-mostly gravel and larger stones that extended a good 6 feet down before any sign of the water table appeared. It was clear that this was the best site and that some-sort of buffer to slow the effluent down would be needed. The site was located downhill from our planned building site so I was excited at having it be gravity fed without pumping it up to some place above our building site. Anyway, several days later I received a letter from the consulting firm informing me that the only feasible design for the site was a very expensive (~$30,000-$40,000) pretreatment system. I was pretty upset and so after already having spent $700 on consulting fees I decided to drop them and find someone else·

The biggest mistake I had made, I realize now, was that I didn't ask around for advice from other people who had gone through the process of obtaining a septic design. It turns out that 2 other people in my office had encountered the SAME exact issue with the SAME consulting firm! Both of them had some great sandy loam soils on their property but both were told that the only option for their site was the same expensive pre-treatment design that had been offered to me. Both of these people dropped the consulting firm after being told that they only had that one option, and both hired different consultants who eventually designed systems that were much, much cheaper than the 'one-option' consulting firm had come up with.

I've hired another consultant whom I trust now. He took the time to go out and walk some of my land with me to get a feel for what's out there. Interestingly, he wants to dig soil pits in some of the same areas that the previous firm had dug because he thinks they were wrong about the water table· So, I'm starting from scratch at this point but wanted to let you know that there definitely is a company here in central Vermont that seems to have one particularly expensive design they're pushing (it apparently involves a lot of little pumps and other mechanical components that could break). I'm very interested in exploring the Presby system as a possibility-gravity fed design that sounds pretty good (I have several friends who have that system and say that it works well).

From talking to just a few people here in Vermont, there appears to be some sort of agenda driving some design companies to push certain products· Hope this helps!

E. I. (name withheld by request)

I read your letter in Mother Earth News.

In 2005 we decide to purchase a historic building (a grist mill built in 1873) that was in use as an antique store. We got a zoning variance to allow residencial usage in July 2005 and immediately (literally the same day) went from the hearing to the Health department to discuss well and septic. I explained what we were doing and was instructed to have the existing septic inspected.

When I brought back documentation that the septic was working properly, they instructed me to have soil borings done. When those were complete, they asked for additional borings. This general process continued until October 2006. I hired a septic designer, we completed all the required meetings, submitted plans, made corrections as requested. Each time we complied with their requirements, they sent a letter with NEW requirements. It went on and on and on until I blew a fuse and told them I was calling the State's Attorney and telling him that the county needed to purchase my propertly since the health department refused to give me a septic permit. Three hours later I received a phone call that they would issue a permit.

My septic designer called and apologized profusely before giving me his estimate. He said he could put in a perfectly good septic for 5-6,000 dollars, but this design would cost $20,000. He also said he never seen a design like this one.

I could go on and on about the unbelievable stupidity of the people at our county health department.

Mary Lou Endres
McHenry County, Illinois

We also have a septic problem in our county - Geauga, Ohio. For the most part, it has been a farm community lying in the suburbs of Cleveland, OH. But, it's also a picture perfect area and needless to say, people want to move here. Since most of us live in somewhat rural areas, we have septic tanks including the property where my office is. This septic tank would never pass an inspection and didn't when I purchased this building 7 years ago and at that time a new system was about $25-30K. I was able to petition the EPA to allow us to operate here without a new system due to the fact that we are a small office and don't use much water.

2 years (or so) ago, the county took over all inspection of septic tanks and unless it was put in less than 10 years ago or so, it won't pass and you can't sell your house if it doesn't - or if you do sell, about $25K has to go into escrow until the inspector has the available time to get there and of course providing weather permitting.

There is also a 3 acre and 5 acre rule here - and the only way to get around that is by the developer putting in city water and or city sewers which has been happening here for the past 15 year or so. For example, the houses in the development where we live, has city sewers but we each have a well and our lots are all 1.5 acres. Of course the argument there is that you are taking water from the ground, but not putting it back.

I'll be interested to read your article when it comes out.

Jim Tewell
Tewell & Associates, Inc.

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