In order to better understand the current situation it is useful to look at the procedural history of the DLWID Septic Revitalization Program. To accomplish this I reviewed the DLWID public record available online covering the period January 2006 through December 2009. The result was the creation of a document entitled “Septic Program Documented History” which highlights all excerpts related to “septic” from all DLWID online records. Given the importance of context a hyperlink is provided to the original document should the reader wish to continue their research.
2006 Board Activities
There were very few activities or discussions regarding septic systems in 2006. Septic systems were not discussed in any DLWID 2006 board meeting. The district did trial a discount coupon good for getting your septic system pumped. The coupon took $25 off pumping services provided by T&L Septic Tank Service. Very few residents took advantage of the offer.
2007 Board Activities
Discussions related to septic systems began to appear in 2007 DLWID board meetings, exactly 3 meetings contained a reference to this topic. None of the 2007 references are related to actions of DLWID. The year began with the Vegetation Management Workshop on February 20, 2007. A portion of the discussion in that meeting was about the removal of septic systems on Clear Lake which was an example of a lake with SolarBees. In May during public comment there was a complaint about a building permit for a new dock that was really more related to the activities at a rental property. Concerns about the septic system being overworked due to the high occupancy rate were expressed.
2008 Board Activities
Discussions related to septic systems by the DLWID increased dramatically in 2008. Septic tanks were mentioned in 6 meetings during the year with most of the discussion related to the Devils Lake Plan and SolarBees as there was an attempt to fund both SolarBees and the Septic Revitalization Program from the Oregon DEQ Revolving Loan Program.
During the Goal Setting Workshop held February 16, 2008 a goal was produced to create a Lake Management Plan as well as a goal to investigate grants for home repair with an eye to septic tank revitalization within the watershed area.
During the questioning that occurred in the 2008 Budget Committee Meeting the Septic Program was discussed. The 2008-2009 Budget contained the septic system goals and identified unspecified grant funding of up to $25,000 for this purpose. At that time the program was described as establishing a free septic tank testing day, along with an incentive of a discount to assist in the replacement if a problem was discovered.
The first draft of the Devils Lake Plan released June 2008 contained many references to septic systems and the initial description of the Septic Revitalization Program. In this draft the plan would require mandatory certified inspections of all septic systems within the watershed every three years. Failure to comply with the proposed municipal ordinance would be cause for the water service to be shut off. A revolving loan program was proposed which would allow the private property owner access to low or no interest loans for septic revitalization. Discussion continued regarding the method of obtaining permission for inspections and other issues. The board determined that Septic Revitalization should remain in the plan; however, the entity under whose auspices the monitoring and administering would be is an open issue. The Devils Lake Management Plan has been a standing item on board meeting agendas but to date the Board has not formally made a resolution for its adoption. After a review of the district’s records it could be argued that in many ways, the DLWID Manager is operating as if the draft plan is a final document with board approval.
By June, the Septic Revitalization Program took on a new role as the district applied to the DEQ Revolving Loan Program to fund the placement of SolarBees on Devils Lake. The application for SolarBees represented a non-point source project; the Septic Revitalization Program added a point source component strengthening the request. Therefore, the DEQ application contained a request for an additional $100,000 to create a loan program to fund residential septic tank improvements. The application states the program would “require residents with septic tanks in the watershed to document a serviceable and workable septic system in order to continue to receive municipal water”.
2009 Board Activities
The majority of discussion related to septic tanks occurred in 2009, with the discussion remaining in the Devils Lake Plan agenda item split between the Septic Revitalization Program, SolarBees, the DEQ 319 Grant and a Nutrient Budget RFP. Several public commenter’s mentioned septic tanks during these meetings mostly in response to the board’s discussion. In all there were 11 meetings that involved septic tanks in 2009.
The 2009-20010 Budget contained a couple of line items related to septic systems and identified specific grant funding with $24,500 from the DEQ 319 grant and $100,000 from the DEQ Revolving Loan program. During the budget meeting there were several public comments suggesting the money designated for septic systems might be better used on sewer systems. The DLWID Manager stated the district is looking at a septic tank revitalization and having people get their septic tanks inspected every year.
In August the board stated a concern with the level of phosphates and nutrients in the lake and determining the means to deal with the inputs. It was suggested that the district needs to do research on studies that have been conducted so that the Board can assess the priorities of the issues. From this comment a draft RFP was written to developed a Nutrient Budget for the entire lake. Bids were due November 4, 2009. This is an effort to try to get a handle on where nutrients are coming from and what they comprise. It will provide information for prioritizing issues in an attempt to mitigate issues that are impacting the lake negatively—logging practices, construction, fertilizer, and the septic tanks.
During the year DLWID’s manager has reported on the status of their DEQ 319 Grant application. These grants are meant to address nonpoint sources of pollution affecting coastal, river, lake, drinking and ground-water resources of the state. The project proposed by the district involves data mining historical data the district has collected for entry into the DEQ LASAR database. The project also involves the creation of a septic tank GIS layer presumably to be used in the Septic Revitalization Program, DEQ has taken some issue this component as septic tanks are considered a point source of pollution, but the assumption is that it will be allowed.
Having coupled funding for the Septic Revitalization Program to the SolarBee project into the 2008 DEQ Revolving Loan Program kept the discussion on the agenda through-out the year. By July the district had discovered that while the project submitted to the DEQ received a very high ranking the application was disqualified due to missing approvals from State and local agencies. This effectively killed any funding for the loan portion of the Septic Revitalization Program.
As a means of developing and implementing the Septic Revitalization Program, the District has sought a partnership with the University of Oregon’s Resource Assistance for Rural Environments program (RARE). This program provides a graduate student matched specifically to a community’s needs. Cost sharing for the program is $19,000 per participating entity. An estimate of 50% of the intern’s time has been proposed for the Septic Revitalization Program. On September 9, 2009 Seth Lenaerts began his internship. In October he presented his workplan which included mapping elements, and researching established programs. The board responded by reminding him that he is here to help educate people and work on helping residents replace inoperable tanks. It was questioned by what authority the District has to instruct residents to manage septic tanks. A board member stated that he feels strongly that that offering some financial incentive (rather than fines) will generate results.
By the November board meeting it was reported that much progress had been made on a septic tank public outreach program, by creating some simple information to provide to homeowners. It was stated that in discussions with the County and the City, it appears the best way is identifying a 500‐foot buffer around the lake to assess. Questions were asked about what was being done on Thompson Creek due to the high e-Coli readings this summer. The DLWID Manager responded that there has not been a lot of testing there, and that Thompson Creek is a fraction of the septic tanks of the homes that are causing problems.
In the December board meeting it was announced that the DLWID Manager co‐hosted a meeting with the City of Lincoln City on Wednesday, November 25, 2009. The intent of that meeting was to determine justification for the Septic Revitalization Program, determine the area/distance from waterways to be regulated, inspection requirements and roles and responsibilities of participating agencies. The December 3, 2009 Memo from City Manager David Hawker was distributed outlining a plan and recommendation for mandatory septic inspections under the threat of discontinuation of water service and/or fines. The board was asked by the DLWID Manager to pass a resolution in support of the Memo distributed moments earlier, to be presented to the City Council in their January meeting where the new ordinance would be introduced.
In the words of one board member “we felt blindsided”. While initial ideas related to the Septic Revitalization Program had been discussed throughout the year, no formal plan had been presented to the board for approval. It was never contemplated that the district would move from initial discussions to a draft ordinance in a single meeting. The board expressed concern that a monitoring system based on the threats and fines as drafted in this proposed ordinance would be the best initial approach. It was also suggested that it was premature to roll out such an aggressive program prior to reviewing the results of an updated Lake Nutrient Budget currently out to bid. This study in part will determine the contribution of pollutants that septic tanks contribute to the lake, helping determining the proper implementation strategy of a septic program. The board did not pass a resolution in support of the memo and seek input from the community.