Highlands East Begins Septic Maintenance & Re-Inspection Program

By Jim Sangster

Our enjoyment of life at the lake and, the market values of our shoreline properties are directly related to the quality of the lake water. Phosphorus is probably the major leading cause of deteriorating lake water quality as it promotes excessive weed growth and algae blooms. The source of this phosphorus as we know is from lawn and garden fertilizers and, in-ground sewage waste disposal systems (septic tank and tile bed systems). With the increasing number, size and use of cottages, the amount of sewage waste and phosphorous being produced and entering the groundwater and lake water systems is also increasing creating a higher risk for water quality deterioration. Poorly functioning, poorly maintained or under-sized septic systems are a huge factor in this regard.  

In the late 1970s, a Cottage Pollution Control Program was conducted by the Provincial Ministry of the Environment together with the local Health Unit in the Peterborough and Haliburton County areas. Many of the properties on Paudash Lake were inspected at that time during that program. The object of that program was to locate undersized, inadequate or malfunctioning sewage disposal systems and have any problems corrected. More than thirty-five years has elapsed since that program was conducted (approximately the average life of a septic system) and, the PLCA has been lobbying the local municipal governments to initiate a similar program. 

In 1998, the regulation for septic systems was transferred to the Ontario Building Code (sewage disposal systems treating flows less than 10,000 litres per day). This authority then is within the jurisdiction of a municipality, health unit or conservation authority. In our case, the Municipality of Highlands East is now the administrative structure and authority for the enforcement of septic regulation for our area. Programs of this nature have been ongoing for more than ten years in the Georgian Bay, Muskoka areas and in 2016 this type of program was made mandatory by the Province for the Lake Simcoe Watershed area to address deteriorating lake water quality issues.  

The Highlands East Environment Committee which is chaired by our ward councillor, Suzanne Partridge, has made recommendation to Council as a whole several months back to implement a septic maintenance and re-inspection program (SMP) for the whole of the Municipality. Council has agreed to implement a program and it is planned to start the program during the spring/summer season this year (2017). We are of the understanding that Township Staff are currently in the planning and development stages for this program. Hopefully we will be receiving information on the details of the program soon. 

As noted, the Executive Board of the PLCA has been lobbying our local municipalities over the years to implement some type of program to aid in identifying and correcting any problem sewage disposal systems that may be having a detrimental effect on the quality of our lakes. Programs of this nature are normally conducted in a confidential manner with results not being made public and therefore are a benefit to all of us. We would like to believe that the majority of shoreline property owners are in favour of such a program. We also would like to thank our Municipal Council for having similar concerns and the foresight to implement this program. We will report back with additional information as it becomes available in the next newsletter.