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Wastewater regulations help protect water quality
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Landowners building new home sites or camp houses typically put in septic systems to handle wastewater, but some may not realize that state regulations govern the process.
Jason Barrett, an assistant professor with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said everyone concerned about the quality of drinking water and the safety of private wells, shallow aquifers and surface water should care about this issue.
"The state has an on-site wastewater law on the books. All it asks citizens to do -- if they build a house or move to a new location that doesn’t have access to a centralized wastewater system -- is to put in an acceptable process for wastewater treatment," Barrett said. "Ultimately, we're trying to prevent raw waste from hitting any open streams or surface water and make sure water leaving septic systems is treated before it is dispersed."
Barrett wants anyone in the state who is building, buying or moving to know that there are state laws in place that oversee onsite wastewater disposal. Local governments sometimes add further requirements.
“Even if it weren’t a law, wastewater must be properly managed,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of the drinking water systems in the state are groundwater. When we dispose of wastewater in our typical fashions, we’re disposing into streams and rivers that in some way may feed into our underground water supply.”
Nationwide regulations require septic tanks to be at least 50 feet from a private well. Field lines that disperse wastewater must be at least 100 feet from a private well.
“There may be systems being installed correctly where standards are being violated because the treatment system doesn’t fit with the soil type. This may happen without the homeowner realizing it is a violation,” Barrett said. “The Mississippi State Department of Health has a list of certified installers and inspectors, so homeowners can be assured their system is safe, functional and legal.”
Duncan Welch, director of the Mississippi State Department of Health Division of Onsite Wastewater, said the primary goal is to protect the environment and the citizens of the state.
“We must protect our abundant water resources for the coming generations, and we want to make sure we’re protecting the homeowners from themselves,” Welch said. “If someone goes out and installs a septic tank they find at the store and lays some pipes for drainage, they can end up creating a big mess on their property, and if they try to fix that mess, it could end up on their neighbor’s property.”
Welch said conditions in about 60 percent of the state are not conducive to having a traditional, underground septic system. Facts such as rain accumulation, soil type and ground condition can make it necessary to avoid a traditional septic tank with underground disposal.
“Instead, most have an aerated mechanical treatment plant that uses some type of pipe system to disperse the treated wastewater over land,” Welch said. “This is usually done with spray heads, but an open pipe can be used if the landowner has enough area to allow it to flow out and remain safely on their property.”
While many people automatically think of installing a typical septic tank that must be pumped out every three to five years, Welch said these can be more expensive than a wastewater treatment system that uses spray irrigation. Whatever method used, he urges homeowners to follow state and local regulations to ensure safety.