To: TML Council and Planning Committee
From: Muskoka Ratepayers Association
Date: March 4, 2022
The Muskoka Ratepayers’ Association (MRA) has reviewed the Engage Muskoka Survey requesting public input for a proposed Septic Inspection By-Law.
We applaud Council and Staffs initiatives to protect and enhance our environment and protect our water sources from contamination. However, our members always raise the same questions when governments impose new and often more costly, restrictive regulations on taxpayers:
- What are the types and extent of problems that have been identified with current septic systems in the Township?
- How will new rules and regulations solve the identified problems?
- What metrics and time frames have been established to judge the success of the initiatives verses the status quo?
- How will the by-law be enforced?
- What are the estimated total additional costs for staff, legal, professional inspectors and ultimately taxpayers?
- Has Council and Staff conducted a total long term cost/benefit analysis for this by law?
Currently the TML utilizes a very targeted approach. All installers of septic systems must be licenced by the Province. Any new or replacement system is reviewed by a TML Septic Inspector for compliance with Provincial regulations and positioning on the property. The TML for many years has employed seasonal employees to visually inspect septic systems, usually based on risk, i.e. one season it was islands, in 2019 it was Moon River properties impacted by the Spring flood and on two occasions it was Three Mile Lake due to blue green algae concerns. Very few problem systems were found and remedial action was ordered on any that were obvious problems. Based on regular District of Muskoka and Muskoka Lakes Association analysis over many years, water quality appears to be in very good to excellent condition, albeit with some problem locations. The problem areas are known and many of the issues are not related to septic systems, but due to naturally elevated levels of phosphorous, adjacent farming and golf activities, geese droppings and associated run off, shallow lakes, soil types and water sources i.e. spring fed, wetland fed etc.
The MRA agrees that the TML should have records and documentation for each septic system in the township. Steel tanks should not be an issue because they have been prohibited for many years. If they are still in use they need to be replaced.
The risk metrics proposed in the by-law appear to be primarily age related with secondary considerations related to abutment to waterways and OP water quality indicators. However, the MRA has difficulty understanding the logic for some of the metrics chosen. For example, a new septic system located on a Three Mile Lake waterfront property would be classed as high risk and be required to have a Phase II inspection just like a 30 year old system on an adjacent property.
The MRA believes the TML should be responsible to conduct any Phase I or II inspection. The TML inspects all septic installations and every phase of building inspections, other than those mandated for provincial oversight like heating and electrical or septic above a certain capacity with their own personnel. This septic inspection is a TML initiative and TML should own every step of the process, including record keeping, fines and prosecution to ensure consistent application and enforcement.
Having said that the TML needs to accept total ownership for all inspection programme initiatives, the MRA believes the TML appears to be overly zealous to conduct septic inspections at owners expense, in search of mainly illusory problems. It is our belief that most septic systems in TML are under utilized on an annual basis, primarily because most are seasonal and many others are used by smaller families and retirees. Many issues occur from short term usage by numerous people during parties or family gatherings, which this by law does not or can not address.
The MRA in our comments on the recent draft TML Official Plan suggested that a visual inspection of the septic system during every pump out, would be the most reliable and cost effective manner to ensure the efficacy of the TML septic infrastructure. It would require the TML to do the following:
- Develop a four copy form (owner, pumper/hauler, sewage plant operator, TML Septic Dept.) Each septic pumper must complete the form and have it signed by the property owner/designee before being permitted to off load septage at any sewage lagoon. The form could include check boxes that denote visual condition of filter bed, grass, trees, condition of tank baffles, smells, signs of leakage, tank effluent character and mechanical equipment operating condition etc. The form could also contain a comments section for both the septic technician or owner to make comments.
- Get District of Muskoka, adjacent municipalities and septic haulers to buy in to the programme. This could also benefit other municipalities like Segwun, Huntsville, Bracebridge, Gravenhurst etc. if they adopt the same procedure.
- Upon receipt of TML’s copy of the completed form the TML should log the entry into their data base, note any problems and follow up with the owner re corrective action and time lines, if required.
Most septic systems are pumped out every five to ten years. Yes some might never be pumped or pumped and not recorded, however this should be a red flag in the data base for follow up with the property owner. Those forms with concerns noted are also red flags. The MRA believe this is a targeted approach to deal exclusively with septic problems, while not aggregating other water quality issues with septic inspections i.e. proximity to waterways and/or water quality indicators from the Muskoka OP.
The MRA sincerely hopes that Council and Staff will seriously consider our comments in crafting any by-law.