FAQs

Answers to frequently asked questions about the Sewerage System Regulation

Rationale

QUESTION - Why was the On-site Septic System Regulation changed to the Sewerage System Regulation (SSR) on May 31, 2005?
Three key reasons were:

The regulation offers the health authorities a mechanism to reposition resources to programs with higher-level health outcomes, such as drinking water and communicable diseases, while ensuring that on-site systems are appropriate-as the staff were spending 20 to 40 per cent of their time on sewage systems.
The regulation replaces health authority directed regulation with industry accountability.
The regulation also reduces regulatory burdens and provides flexibility for emerging technology by substituting prescriptions with practice standards.

Players

QUESTION - What is BCOSSA and what do they do?

BCOSSA stands for BC On-Site Sewage Association

BCOSSA is responsible in the Sewerage System Regulation for ensuring that all contractors have the appropriate education/experience and then recommends to ASTTBC (certifying body) those contractors that have appropriate education and experience for registration.
BCOSSA offers education through the Westcoast Onsite Wastewater Training Centre (WOWTC).
BCOSSA provides this education to all areas of the province.

QUESTION - What is ASTTBC and what do they do?

ASTTBC stands for Applied Science Technologists & Technicians of British Columbia

ASTTBC registers individuals from a wide range of activities and part of their mandate is the maintenance of a high standard of practice and ethics.
ASTTBC is named in the legislation and addresses complaints/discipline part of regulating the contractors.
A practitioner registered with ASTTBC is held to the ASTTBC Code of Ethics and other by-laws, so if a complaint is made to ASTTBC regarding a registered practitioner, they can evaluate the merits of the complaint and investigate and discipline the registered practitioner, if necessary.

Training

QUESTION - What training opportunities has BCOSSA offered in the past, and what is their plan for future education offerings?
Since summer/fall of 2004, BCOSSA has defined the courses and course content currently available through the Westcoast Onsite Wastewater Training Centre (WOWTC)..

Courses are kept current and appropriate.
Courses have been offered in various areas of the province and at several times (eg: Prince George, Kelowna, Nelson) to help reduce the burden of taking the courses in Victoria.
Some courses are offered as a correspondence or home-study.
The Training Centre is currently working on a series of courses for professionals, eg: engineers, to help meet the needs of those contractors in this field as well as identifying and addressing other educational needs/availability in all areas in the province.

Costs

QUESTION - Do septic systems cost homeowners more now than before?
Yes, for two reasons:

The standard of systems has been elevated.
The actual cost of assessment and design is no longer subsidized by the health authority.
*First, the prescriptive nature of the previous regulation tried to incorporate the treatment of sewage into its various requirements and also relied on the expertise and professionalism of the Medical Health Officer via Public Health Inspectors (MHO/PHI) as a final authority by making septic system construction a permitted activity. With the SSR, the new filing process for septic system construction removed MHO/PHI permits and placed the responsibility of system construction and maintenance on industry and the homeowner. To balance reduced health authority involvement, treatment of sewage has become the primary outcome and is the focus of the SSR through the Standard Practice Manual where systems now are typically larger and more complicated to help ensure sewage is properly treated. Moreover, the homeowner's responsibility to ensure proper maintenance of his/her septic system constructed under the SSR helps to ensure the long-term treatment of sewage from septic systems as a whole. In addition, the site assessment now incorporates a more substantial soils analysis because the natural soil structure and consistence of the area the sewage infiltrates into is very important in the treatment of the sewage

Second, the permit process of the old regulation was very resource intensive and was one of the reasons the health authorities supported the SSR. The main cost of the permit process under the previous regulation was the need to assess each application on the appropriateness of the proposed design for both the proposed building and the lot. These costs were certainly not recovered in the permit fee. With the SSR, those costs are now part of the construction process of septic systems.

QUESTION - Why is the filing fee $200?
To help off-set the health authorities costs associated with investigating complaints in the field and from other agencies, working with other agencies to help resolve issues around sewage, issuing tickets and orders, and managing the filings

QUESTION - Is there assistance for homeowners on fixed incomes?
A low-income homeowner may be eligible for assistance through a CMHC program called Homeowner Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program. There are eligibility requirements that must be met.

QUESTION - What mechanisms are in place to ensure a fair price is charged for systems?
Market competition and homeowner diligence will keep costs appropriate. The standard market system is what is in place to ensure appropriate costs are charged. Similar to purchasing a car, a homeowner should consult with several (eg: three) authorized persons (registered designers) to find what system design is appropriate for their situation as well as the materials needed and construction costs from registered installers. Time is needed for the market to adjust.

Insurance

QUESTION - What about insurance for the homeowner of a failed system constructed after May 31, 2005?
The homeowner should go back to the authorized person who completed the filing documents with the health authority. The authorized person should behave professionally and ethically, and help the homeowner with the failure.

As authorized persons defined in the SSR, they are governed by their registering body: for registered practitioners it is the Applied Science Technologists & Technicians of British Columbia (ASTTBC) and for engineers, it is the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC (APEGBC)
There is a complaint review process within both of these registering bodies regarding their members' professional and ethical practices. If an authorized person is found to be practising unethically or unprofessionally, then the registering body will likely take corrective action. With this in mind, most authorized persons will help homeowners as a matter of professional and ethical practice as well as to avoid the complaint process with their registering body.

QUESTION - Insurance for authorized persons?
Currently, BCOSSA is investigating the possibility of insuring the registered practitioners as they and ASTTBC have found it difficult to find an underwriter that understands the nature of this business and will provide errors and omissions coverage at a reasonable cost. ASTTBC currently has insurance that may cover registered practitioners for the time being. Professional engineers are covered under their Association.

Liability - Homeowner

QUESTION - How does homeowner liability apply?
The issue of homeowner liability has not changed significantly from the previous regulation.

The homeowner still must: not cause or contribute to a health hazard, repair a failed system, and ensure the proper documentation procedure is followed with the health authority. Only the specifics regarding these homeowner obligations has changed with the SSR, ie: use of authorized persons only for construction and maintenance, filing as opposed to permits, and filing prior to construction.

It should also be noted that the number and extent of lawsuits have been few. Most resulted from improper permit process procedures rather than actual system failures. The Environmental Appeal Board was very active in resolving disputes with the old regulation, and as the permit process is no longer in the SSR, this body is no longer applicable to the construction of septic systems.

Application of the Regulation

QUESTION - What does the public do when they think sewage is surfacing on the ground?
As this is an obvious health concern, they should contact their health authority's local public health office.

QUESTION - Does the Sewerage System Regulation (SSR) apply (including maintenance) to systems constructed prior to May 31, 2005?

No. However, any significant alteration or a repair of an existing system must be filed under the SSR, eg: adding a bedroom to a house, relocating a tank for a garage, replacing a failed/ruined system.

QUESTION - Purchasing a house with a septic system constructed prior to May 31, 2005?

The SSR is not retroactive. However, the seller should be able to prove that the system was in compliance with the regulation in effect at the time the system was constructed. A permit was required for systems from 1972 to May 30, 2005. So if a system was constructed in that time, then a permit should be available at the local health authority. Please keep in mind that many documents have been lost/destroyed through the years, so the lack of information at the health unit may not necessarily mean that a permit was not taken.

QUESTION - What about selling a house with a septic system constructed prior to May 31, 2005?
Seller must disclose any known problems with the septic system. Typically, a record of pumping (of the septic tank) and a copy of the septic permit (if applicable) is usually sufficient for disclosure purposes - consult with a realtor for more information. If the house is a recent construction, then the new home warranty may also be available. Filing with the health authority is only required if there is a substantive change to the system.

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