Ohio health officials must weigh impact of new rules

Building that dream home in the country may get substantially more expensive for Ohioans this year.

Ohio Department of Health officials are planning to establish new rules for the septic systems used by many individual home builders and subdivision developers. Almost beyond a shadow of doubt, the regulations will add to the cost of constructing homes in areas not served by central sewer systems.

Six years ago, state officials attempted to put new septic system rules in place, but they erred badly. The 2007 plan, had it been left in place, could have increased the cost of a standard septic system to as much as $32,000, critics said. After some lawmakers, no doubt reacting to constituents, objected, the rules were withdrawn.

It is easy to see why. According to state figures, slightly more than 4,000 septic systems were installed in Ohio during 2012. The average cost of a standard system was $7,446.

Requirements for residential septic systems are in place for good reasons. First, of course, the health of families living in homes served by individual or subdivision sewerage is a consideration. Second, raw sewage, if not handled properly, can seep into waterways or groundwater, creating a widespread public health problem.

Nearly a third of the septic systems in Ohio allow raw sewage to flow into streams or groundwater, state officials say.

The 2007 rules were flawed in part because they were not clear in several respects, including how much soil was needed for acceptable systems. Health department officials say those shortcomings have been corrected.

No doubt the rules to be proposed this spring – applicable only to new construction, not existing systems – will be controversial, too.

Health department officials can head off some criticism by ensuring they are proposing the most economical systems and methods available.

They should do that simply because their job is not to add unnecessarily to the cost of building homes – but also because if the new plan appears to be flawed, it, too, will be pulled back.