After an outcry from rural King County residents, a proposal to impose a fee on all septic-system owners has been dropped by Public Health — Seattle & King County.

Share story

A King County proposal to adopt an annual fee on septic systems to fund an inspection and oversight program has been dropped after an outcry from rural King County residents.

Patty Hayes, director of Public Health – Seattle & King County, announced at a packed public meeting Tuesday night in Fall City that the department was tabling its effort to adopt a fee of up to $37 a year. The money would have funded a program to better manage on-site septic systems and identify sources of water contamination in the county.

“We heard from many constituents that they do not support the fee,” Hayes said in a statement Wednesday. But she added that state and local laws require Public Health to provide oversight of septic systems and that the department would continue to explore ways to generate revenue in order, she said, to better protect human health and the environment.

At a series of meetings over the past two weeks in Vashon, Woodinville, Maple Valley and Fall City, hundreds of residents expressed anger over the proposed fee and questioned whether there was any evidence linking their septic tanks to the untreated sewage detected in some area rivers and Puget Sound.

Some elected officials shared residents’ concerns about government overreach and praised the decision to abandon the fee proposal.

“It’s important that the water-quality work associated with failing septic systems is undertaken, but to date, we don’t know the scope of the problem or whether septic systems are contributing in any significant way. Most work pretty well,” said King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski, who chairs the county Board of Health.

In February, the Board of Health directed Public Health to convene a work group to update the county’s 2007 on-site sewage-system-management plan, identify all the septic systems in the county and to find money to fund an operations and maintenance program.

A committee made up of residents, business, environmental, government and tribal representatives met for the first time in March and began to make recommendations about improved customer service and technical assistance to septic-system owners and improved record-keeping of inspections and system certifications.

But they weren’t asked about the fee proposal, Dembowski said, adding that he only learned about it when two committee members testified before the Board of Health in May in opposition to the plan.

Dembowski said he hoped the department would draw on the committee’s knowledge and work to inform any future fee proposal.

State Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah, who represents the mostly rural areas of Eastern King County, said Public Health could undertake some low-cost steps to better inform the public about current requirements that septic systems be inspected at least every three years. He also said that sending a letter to a septic owner who is the subject of a complaint could notify offenders and prompt corrective action.

“If they’re still out of compliance, impose a fine and recover the costs,” Magendanz suggested.

The Puget Sound Partnership, a non-regulatory government organization charged with restoring the Sound’s health and water quality, said that 36,000 acres of commercial and recreational shellfish beds are now closed because of fecal bacteria in the water. Commercial shellfish harvesting is closed on parts of Vashon Island and is expected to close next year on Poverty Bay, which borders Des Moines and Federal Way.

In addition, the Department of Ecology has documented fecal coliform bacterial pollution in 203 waterway segments in King County.

Warren Iverson, who lives and owns a store in the Hobart area of unincorporated King County, and serves on the on-site septic system work group, said the 1,500 people who attended the public meetings and testified against the fee proposal deserve credit for killing the plan.

“Just as the British voted to exit the European Union because of the bureaucracy in Brussels, we killed the septic-fee proposal because of the bureaucracy in the Health Department,” he said.