EFFINGHAM — Before this year, a private septic system could be installed in the final stages of the home-building process.
But now, thanks to new state and federal regulations, those building a new home may need to have the septic system installed before any significant earth moving is done.
As of Feb. 10, all surface discharge systems must receive a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. If the homeowner wants to install a subsurface system, it should be done at the beginning of the construction process, according to one contractor.
"In the past, you could put in a septic system toward the end of the project," said septic system contractor Jesse James of Dieterich. "Now, if you have to go subsurface, you cannot compact any of the dirt in the area you want the system to be installed, or it won't work.
"You need to think about your septic system at the beginning of the whole process," James said.
That means the homebuilder cannot, for example, dig a basement or operate heavy equipment over the area in which the septic system is to be installed before installation. If the system is installed after significant work, the installation area must be fenced off so that workers know the area is off-limits to soil compaction or alteration.
The new regulations require the area to be evaluated by a soil scientist to determine the optimal type of system for the type of soil at the location. With the new regulations in place, James said the cost of a private system could increase from between $4,000 and $5,000 to between $7,000 and $8,000.
Surface discharge is still allowed — into an open field, for example — as long as the discharge does not go into what the EPA terms "Waters of the United States." Those waters could include anything from the Little Wabash River or Lake Sara to the tiniest creek.