Nothing lasts forever, not even those concrete septic tanks buried in many of our backyards that seem to take flush after flush without a peep.
Nobody likes an overbearing, government that dictates day-to-day decisions.
But there are more than a few circumstance where a little micromanagement from big brother has a pretty substantial public health benefit. Yet somehow a piece of private infrastructure buried in the backyard of thousands of homes in the Grand Traverse region receives little — sometimes no — oversight.
It’s hard to find a septic system owner who hasn’t shuddered a little at the tap of a toilet flush lever, wondering if this will be the jackpot pull that will trigger a putrid geyser outside on the lawn.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more than 60 million Americans use small septic systems to treat wastewater. They are small pieces of decentralized infrastructure that allow homeowners to safely flush toilets and run showers in places where municipal sewer systems aren’t economical or available.
And in many cases the systems are well designed and regulated, preventing dangerous bacteria and chemicals from bubbling to the surface or seeping into our groundwater.
Those systems are both common and integral to the lifestyle many northern Michiganders have flocked to the region to pursue. Their prevalence also presents a substantial downside statewide as legislators and regulators have failed to install uniform rules requiring re-inspection of working systems.
Instead the mitten is blanketed with an endless patchwork of disorganized local ordinances that install a wide variety of oversight measures — in many places there are no regulations.
Most residents in the Grand Traverse region face disunity in septic regulations that vary from township to township. That’s why officials in Leelanau County are considering installing a new requirement that septic systems be inspected anytime a home sells. It’s not a perfect protection, but the proposal would at least ensure that a home buyer could rest assured that the decades-old septic system servicing a home is functioning properly.
The measure elicited mixed reactions from Leelanau County officials, including Commissioner Melinda Lautner who contended the issue should be left to each municipality to address.
That kind of here-and-there rule making, at least in the case of septic systems, is a plan for disaster, especially in northern Michigan where many homes began their lives as vacation cottages, prior to or outside of substantial oversight.
Common-sense regulation implemented statewide certainly would steer the ship away from the stinky iceberg buried in many backyards in the Great Lakes state. Meanwhile uniformity at the county level won’t hurt anybody.
Because none of us want to win the prize that arrives after one too many flushes.