The Devils Lake watershed has been densely developed in the last 100 years. Due to the nature of the development and the landscape the vast majority of these homes utilize onsite waste management systems or septic systems. While under working order, septic systems are a good tool for treating bacteria in wastewater that is not however true with failed systems, with systems that are placed in places lacking the right soil conditions, or that are set below the water table. In addition, septic systems can be a major contributor of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) in the watershed, particularly aging or poorly maintained systems. While other sources of nutrients exist, this is one item humans (lake residents, property owners and District residents) can have a direct impact on. Identification and revitalization of septic systems thus was established as the number one priority in the Devils Lake Plan in August of 2008, and continues to be a major priority today with a focus on voluntary inspections.
Key to identifying failing septic systems is conducting evaluations (aka inspections). Currently the District is pursuing a program to encourage voluntary inspections or evaluations. While certain properties going through real estate transactions maybe required to ensure that an adequate septic system exists, many onsite systems have for decades gone without an evaluation, or many never have ever been assessed. In fact, approximately 1 out every 3 homes (33%) in the watershed built with septics systems were installed before 1974, when permits were first required. Many more systems being 25+ years are beyond there useful life. This accounts for approximately 50% of the septic systems in our watershed.
DEQ has many resources to get people educated on septic systems as part of their Oregon Septic Smart program. One tool is to have a licensed professional conduct an Existing System Evaluation Report (aka inspection). This is a voluntary program that allows the homeowner an opportunity to get vital information about their septic system. This can be a valuable tool as certified inspectors can provide detailed information about what is working and what might not be, allowing an opportunity to fix small problems before they lead to expensive repairs or replacement. Evaluations are a wise investment for both homeowners and prospective home buyers.