We may all live to regret decisions like the one made by the Kalkaska County board this week.
County commissioners there, after more than a year of debate, decided to dump its participation in District Health Department No. 10’s 11-year-old septic testing program. It’s a nearly unfathomable move in the wrong direction if our state has any hope of a future with clean lakes and untainted groundwater for drinking.
The 6-1 vote would roll back a point-of-sale inspection requirement — a simple structure that calls for home sewage systems to undergo pumping and inspection each time a house sells. Many water quality experts worry the infrequent peeks at septic health aren’t enough, but they’re certainly better than nothing.
The move isn’t yet final — Manistee County, another member of the shared health department must approve the decision — but it signals a substantial regression. The withdrawal would leave Manistee County as the only county within the health department’s footprint to require septic inspections when homes sell.
The fact is, Kalkaska County was ahead of many other neighboring counties, including Grand Traverse County, when it comes to protecting its pristine waters. And it has plenty of important water to protect, including the southern reaches of Torch Lake.
There are an estimated 1.4 million septic systems in Michigan, many of them located in rural areas like ours where city sewer systems don’t extend much beyond cities or densely populated townships. Those systems, if maintained well, have a life expectancy of about 20 years.
A number of studies have traced water contamination on inland lakes and streams to failing septic systems.
That math is a bit unsettling, considering few counties in our state require any type of inspection of such systems. Worse, the Great Lakes State is the only in the nation that doesn’t have a statewide sanitary code that sets rules for maintaining and inspecting home sewage systems.
Simply burying this problem, or rolling back forward-thinking policies is the last thing our lakes and streams need.