Proposed changes to the state's rules for construction and maintenance of septic systems should have little impact on Snohomish County home builders or residents, officials at...

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Proposed changes to the state’s rules for construction and maintenance of septic systems should have little impact on Snohomish County home builders or residents, officials at the Snohomish Health District say.

For a homeowner, inspections of a septic system’s operating parts once a year and inspections of the entire system and drain field every three years would be required under new rules proposed by the state Department of Health, which regulates septic systems.

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But the proposal — which would update the state’s rules for the first time in nearly 10 years — would only keep up with local health-district programs, said Kevin Plemel, the district’s environmental-health manager.

“There’s a lot of changes in the [state’s proposed] rules,” Plemel said. “But many of them are more along the lines of housekeeping and in line with measures we’ve implemented already.”

For more details

Information on the state Department of Health’s proposed rule changes for septic systems is available at 360-236-3062 or

The goal of the proposal is to prevent system failures and get homeowners to fix systems before complete breakdowns occur, said Brad Avy, the manager of the Department of Health’s wastewater-management program. Failing septic systems are one source of environmental pollution measured in streams statewide.

With advancements in septic systems and new soil data for drain fields, state health officials believe it’s time to change outdated rules governing individual waste-disposal systems, Avy said.

“We’re trying to move to the use of a consistent, national testing program to register systems,” Avy said. “This should actually allow homeowners more options.”

Homeowners with septic systems would no longer be required to hire inspectors for annual checkups, Avy said. They could do the inspections themselves as long as they kept records.

For the first time, minor repairs would be allowed without permits, to encourage homeowners to maintain their systems.

New systems with pumps would require warning devices in case of failure, but that should add little to the overall price, state officials say, which now ranges between $5,000 and $20,000.

To keep new homeowners informed of state requirements, the changes also would call for local health districts to create education programs, Plemel said.

“We’re already creating an inventory of all the systems in the county,” he said.

There are about 70,000 septic systems in Snohomish County, Plemel said, and about 1,200 new hookups every year. That doesn’t account for septic-system owners who connect to expanding municipal sewage systems, he said.

County officials believe septic-system construction will remain steady. State officials say septic systems account for 30 percent of home construction statewide.

Comments on the rules will be collected next month, and the state Board of Health is expected to vote on the proposal in March, Avy said.

Christopher Schwarzen: 425-783-0577 or