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Practical Septic Systems

Some homes in Breckenridge, particularly those built for privacy and seclusion and located off the grid of the town's water and sewer systems have Onsite Wastewater Systems (OWS) also known as Septic Systems.

While municipal systems work best when there are many users to pay for the service, septic systems are often the best choice in less-densely populated areas.  If designed and maintained properly these systems are a reliable and efficient means of wastewater treatment and disposal at a relatively low cost.

OWS Use Permit Required

Since January 1, 2009, the Summit County Board of Health has required sellers to obtain an OWS Use Permit ($75) and give it to buyers prior to or at closing. A homeowner doing major remodeling may also need a Use Permit. This Use Permit helps the Summit County Environmental Health Department to correct any malfunctioning systems and protect the ground water supply.  Requiring the permit protects both sellers, by documenting the condition of the system, and buyers, who can be assured that their new system has been inspected, and is in proper working order.

Explaination of a Septic System:

The main components, buried in the ground, usually consist of a septic tank and an absorption field, also called a leach field. Septic tanks are normally constructed of precast or cast concrete, or fiberglass. Metal tanks have never been allowed in Summit County.

The function of the tank is to filter solids and to serve as an environment for anaerobic bacteria, which decompose the solids in a process similar to composting. Fluid material is processed through the absorption field, comprised of a series of narrow trenches or a bed partially filled with washed gravel surrounding perforated pipes. The field purifies the liquid by breaking down its biodegradable components, and by filtering out micro-organisms, and further filtering continues through the soil, and if designed properly, is completely compatible with the well water systems also common in rural areas.

Soils tests, site inspection and a septic permit from the Summit County Environmental Health Department are required before installing a Septic System and using good design and construction pays off in the long run with a low-to no-maintenance system with no monthly fees.

Where to find more information & OWS Use Permit

The OWS Use Permit is issued by the Summit County Environmental Health Department, and the form to apply for this can be found on the department's website along with a list of Summit County approved inspectors, septic tank pumpers, a chart for suggested septic tank pumping frequency, a list of licensed soils engineers and septic installers and forms for a septic system permit. See the Summit County Government website or phone 970.668.4070.

Contact an OWS Use Permit approved inspector to arrange for the septic pumping and inspection and ask them to submit the Use Permit Inspection Report Form to the Summit County Environmental Health Department

OWS Use Permit Not Required

The Summit County Environmental Health Department does not require a Use Permit when:

   1. The Septic System was installed and approved within 5 years of closing date.

   2. Owner has obtained a permit to repair the system.

   3. Subject system was installed but has never been used.

Obtain a written waiver from the Health Department if the Use Permit is not required. It is recommended that you obtain the inspection even if not required, to ensure there are no problems with the Septic System.

Septic System Maintenance

To maintain a properly functioning Septic System, it is important to perform periodic inspections and maintenance. The Summit County Environmental Health Department recommends that you conduct annual inspections on your Septic System and periodically pump your tank. To decrease solids accumulation and prolong the time between pumping, avoid use of garbage disposal units as they can nearly double the solids accumulation in the tank. To protect and prolong the life of the absorption field, homeowners should take the following precautions:

    * Do not drive over the absorption field with cars, trucks or heavy equipment.

    * Do not plant trees or shrubbery in the absorption field area.

    * Do not cover the absorption field with a hard surface such as concrete or asphalt. Grass is the best cover for the field.

    * Divert surface runoff water from roofs, downspouts, patios, driveways and other areas away from the absorption field.

    * Plowed snow should be kept away from the absorption field.

    * Repair dripping faucets and leaky toilets quickly.

    * New green, low water using appliances will increase the efficiency of your system and are a good choice when possible just on the principle of saving water.

    * Never dump household hazardous substances down the sink or toilet as they can kill the beneficial bacteria as well as pollute the groundwater.

    * Empty hot tubs directly onto the ground rather than running it through the drain system, and through the absorption field.

The confined space within the tank contains hydrogen sulfide and methane gasses, which are toxic when the fumes are inhaled. Never enter or lean into a septic tank or use flames or electrical devices near the opening of a septic tank. The Summit County Environmental Health Department does not recommend septic tank additives claiming to eliminate the need to clean out or enhance operation of a Septic System.