Evidence of sewer need there, but not conclusive

Ron Brown, owner of Brown Bear Septic Pumping, Inc. watches as his employee, Culley Lehman, pumps a septic tank. Regular pumping is something Clinton residents would not have to think about if they decide to form a sewer district. - Gayle Saran
Ron Brown, owner of Brown Bear Septic Pumping, Inc. watches as his employee, Culley Lehman, pumps a septic tank. Regular pumping is something Clinton residents would not have to think about if they decide to form a sewer district.
— image credit: Gayle Saran

Does Clinton need a sewer treatment system?

This seems to be a question without a clear answer. Though Island County knows that a number of septic systems fail every year in the Clinton area, that many are old, are at or below sea level, or are in areas with soils unsuited to septic disposal, no one saying at what point a centralized sewer system should be required in Whidbey Island's southernmost community.

Last month, the Clinton Water District showed off a comprehensive sewer study to the public. Since then, the sewer debate has been raging among Clinton residents included in the study boundaries.

The new study, written up by a Bellevue engineering firm, agrees with an earlier study done by R.W. Beck in 1995. That study states that many septic systems in the Clinton are old, not up to current standards and, in some cases, are failing.

For purposes of the new sewer study, boundaries for the system include 500 subscribers to the Clinton Water District which has a total of 700 customers.

Clinton resident Lee Wexler said this week that he supports small-scale sewer systems for areas with poor septic service. He created his own map recently with boundaries to include Brighton Beach south to Glendale. The map shows 170 parcels which are at or below sea level. Looking the map over, Wexler said the lay of the land is telling.

"Some systems have failed there and they are old," he said.

The Island County Department of Health assisted in the R.W. Beck study, identifying several Clinton communities as having problems with waste water treatment and disposal. On the list are Brighton Beach, Cascade View, Clinton Beach Division I, Columbia Beach Orrs Addition to Columbia Beach, Possession View Beach and Riviera Terrace. These areas include about 200 parcels of land.

The 1995 study further states that on-site systems in the Clinton Water District have failed due to unsuitable soil, the age of systems, high water table and or poor design.

Ron Brown, owner of Brown Bear Septic Pumping and and several lots in Clinton, agrees.

"There are definitely problem areas in Clinton," he said. "Septic systems just don't function well when the tide is in and the water table is high."

Something, he said, needs to change.

"Many of our beach communities don't perk well," Brown said. "There are sensitive areas -- some sort of better treatment is needed."

Another problem is the size of the new homes being built to replace smaller cabins. Much larger than what was there before, they leave no room for reserve drainfields, a problem when a primary field fails.

Reserve areas have been required since 1974. New construction and remodels of existing homes requires designation of a reserve area and an approved primary system.

Septic systems are permitted by the Island County Health Department. Permits have been required to install septic systems since 1950.

Many of the systems in use now are old, said Kathleen Parvin, a water quality specialist with the health department. The only way the department knows whether those systems are working is through owner reporting.

In 2002, there were 36 requests to repair failed septic repairs from Freeland south. The number of reported failures in 2001 was 46.

"The number of repairs we hear about each year is fairly consistent," Parvin said. "But those numbers don't include people who may repair or replace a system prior to failure."

According to the Island County Code, a septic failure is defined as a condition that threatens the public health by inadequately treating sewage.

For now Clinton residents will continue to debate the sewer question, until the Clinton Water District Board makes a recommendation to the Island County Commissioners.

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