City Manager Says Inspection Results Will Vindicate Septic Program
The News Guard
Several lakefront homeowners have called on Devils Lake officials to oppose Lincoln City’s moves toward a septic tank inspection program, saying the City has failed to provide proof that septic systems are polluting the lake.
Speaking at the Dec. 1 meeting of the Devils Lake Water Improvement District, homeowner Mark Highland said the program was being “railroaded through” by City Manager David Hawker.
Meanwhile, Hawker accused the program’s critics of “looking for excuses” not to go ahead with inspections, saying that he will faint in public if the program fails to find systems that have gone bad.
The program, endorsed by Lincoln City Council at its Nov. 14 meeting, would aim to inspect between 100 and 150 systems in its first year, with those deemed at highest risk of failure at the top of the list.
Mark Christie, who also owns a lakefront home, said he is perturbed by recent discussions that have assumed a link between septic systems and lake water quality without offering evidence.
Christie said any inspection program must be “data driven” so that improvements can be measured and so that officials can get the public on board.
Fellow lakefront homeowner Larry Brown took issue with the City’s proposal to shut off the water supply of property owners who refuse to have their systems inspected, calling such action “immoral.”
“If we want to have people’s houses being inspected … for criminy’s sake, let’s come up with a concept that is palatable and polite and moral,” he said.
Mitchell Moore, who owns a home on Sand Point, said the District needs to “get on the record” and challenge Hawker’s assertions that the lake water is polluted.
“There are some people that make their living on that lake,” he said. “I don’t think they want people thinking you can’t swim in Devils Lake.”
The District has been a strong supporter of a program that ensures septic systems within the watershed are functioning properly.
“Failing septic systems can contribute disease and pathogens to the lake,” the District’s Clearwater newsletter says. “In addition, septic systems contribute significant amount[s] of nitrogen and can contribute large amounts of phosphorous [both of which contribute toward cyanobacteria blooms].
Seth Lenearts, the District’s project manager said he is encouraged by the City’s willingness to look at septic inspections in the short term and sewering for the long term.
“As far as looking at a possibility of having a real improvement on cleaning Devils Lake, I think this has been a really significant month,” he said, “and think we’ve probably come further than we have in a while.”
Catherine Pruett, executive director of the Salmon Drift Creek Watershed Council, also urged the District and the City to move forward, citing ecological and public safety concerns about pollution.
Speaking on Dec. 2, Hawker said there is “overwhelming evidence” that septic systems fail over time.
More than 200 septic systems within the lake’s watershed have no record with the County planning department, indicating that they are more than 40 years old and have never been repaired.
“Based on the failure rate, there has to be a number of them that are failing,” he said.
“If we do 100 inspections and we find that we are wrong,” he added, “first of all, I’ll faint – and I’ll do it in public so everyone can watch. And secondly, we can abort the program.”
Hawker likened the discussion to that surrounding climate change, saying that no matter how much evidence is presented, there will still be “naysayers.”
“I think that people that are taking that approach of ‘prove it, prove it’ just don’t want to have to deal with it,” he said.
Hawker said the benefits of fixing any failing systems could eventually be measured in terms of reduced nitrogen and phosphorous levels in the lake.
He conceded that it would be difficult to distinguish septic-related benefits from the effects of other nutrient reduction measures, such as Chinook Winds Golf Resort’s pending switch to using lake water for irrigation.
City staff are drafting the inspection ordinance, which is slated for Council consideration early in 2012.