LANSING, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – As a septic system ages, it often causes problems to homeowners, resulting in them having to get their septic pumped more often than they would like. These trips to their homes by septic pumping services often cost a homeowner around $300 a visit or more. That’s a far more manageable number to some, including seniors and those on fixed income, than a mandated law from the state that would cause them to have to come up with thousands of dollars, possibly $20,000 or more, within six months to get a new septic system installed.

Michigan is the only state in the nation without uniform standards governing how onsite sewage treatment systems are designed, built, installed and maintained – and Michigan Democrats want to change that as Michigan News Source reported earlier.

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39 Democrats in the House have put forth a package of bills to institute a statewide septic code for the 30% of Michigan residents who use septic tanks. Identical legislation was introduced in the senate.

According to the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), Michigan has between 1.3 and 1.4 million onsite septic systems, and 35% of its residents rely on them; however, many of these systems are failing or inadequate due to the lack of a uniform statewide code. With no statutory way to define and alleviate failing septic systems in much of the state, EGLE says that these systems can lead to contaminated water seeping into nearby bodies of water, leading to increased levels of E. coli, other bacteria and algae blooms.

The two Democrat bills, HB 4479 and 4480, introduced at the end of April in honor of Earth Day, would legislate that there are statewide inspections of septic tanks every five years in order to help protect water quality across the state, assuming there is no change to the use of the septic system or a failure of the system during that period. According to Rep. Phil Skaggs (D-East Grand Rapids) a co-sponsor of the bill, anyone can report suspected failure to the local health department which would trigger an inspection.

The inspections would cost the homeowner the cost of the inspection and a state administrative fee – and if their septic is found to be failing, the homeowner would be forced to spend thousands of dollars to fix their septic system to be in compliance with the state laws.

If the inspector finds evidence of septic failure causing an imminent public health hazard, the owner must remedy the failure within six months of receiving the inspector’s report. If the owner violates this directive, they are subject to a civil fine of more more than $1,000 for each 30-day period that the onsite wastewater treatment system remains in failure and the prosecutor of the county may begin an action to collect the fine.

In addition to the costs to replace a septic tank and drain field, a homeowner might have extra costs related to the project including excavation, yard regrading, aerator installation, tree removal, sod installation, a new septic line, leach field abandonment permit and engineering and design fees.

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Where are seniors, people on fixed income and your average Michigander going to come up with all of this money within six months?

Michigan News Source asked Skaggs that question and he said, “HB 4480 creates a fund to help with loans or grants to low-income homeowners to help remedy failure.

In addition, last year Senate Bill 565 created a fund to deal with loans to homeowners and funded it at $35 million. There is also the possibility of expanding the role of the Michigan Saves green bank to support low- or no-interest loans.”

The bills are currently awaiting committee hearings.