by Paul J. Sniadecki, MLSA Board Director
For many years, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have repeatedly tried to end Michigan’s shameful distinction as the only state lacking consistent regulations to prevent failing septic systems from polluting its ground and surface water.
There are an estimated 1.4 million septic systems state-wide and Michigan environmental regulators believe about 20 percent of those systems may be failing. Without a statewide code, local governments are left to decide whether, and how best, to deal with septic pollution problems. It is estimated that about 11 counties and 10 townships require inspections of septics when a home sells. But elsewhere, regulators often lack basic information about where septic systems are located, much less whether they are functioning correctly.
On April 27, 2023, twin bills in the House (4479 and 4480) and Senate (299 and 300) proposed changes to Michigan law to reduce pollution from leaky septic systems. The bills would require periodic state inspections, and require homeowners to repair faulty systems, which can be expensive. Every septic system would be inspected every five years, and residents would generally have six months to fix problems detected during inspections. The bills envision local health departments becoming authorized to oversee those inspections. The bills have early support from influential organizations, including the real estate and public health lobbies, which have both taken issue with parts of past attempts to craft a statewide code.
In the past, there has been much disagreement over how to remedy the messy septic situation. One of the obstacles has been funding for personnel to run the inspection process, as well funding for low income property owners who cannot afford repair, or worse yet, replacement. Several lawmakers believe that with Michigan’s budget flush with excess cash, this might be the time to overcome the funding obstacle. Hopefully, once the current budget process is over, the respective committees can hold public hearings.
Michigan Environmental Council article on Possible Michigan Septic Code.