Well, septic evaluations can help homeowners

Attendees of the 14th annual Water Quality Forum talk with speakers during one of the breaks. During the forum, they heard from Matthew Allen, supervisor of the Ottawa County health department’s Environmental Health team about real estate evaluations done on septic and well systems.

Editor’s note: This article is the fourth in a series about topics presented at the 14th annual Water Quality Forum, which was hosted by the county on Nov. 21. More articles will be printed and put online in the coming weeks.

When buying or selling a home, there may seem like an extensive list of things to check, pack up and more. However, one thing buyers and sellers may not have in mind is something that could cost them thousands of dollars if something goes wrong.

Matthew Allen, supervisor of the Ottawa County Department of Public Health’s Environmental Health team, recently spoke at a Water Quality Forum about septic and well evaluations.

“Ottawa County does septic and well evaluations for any property that transfers ownership that has a septic or a well,” he said. “We’ve been doing these since 1984. Initially, (the program was) a buyer awareness program.”

Allen noted the program helps protect public health and the environment, ensures systems are functioning properly, ensures buyers know what they are purchasing, and provides an educational opportunity on septic and well operations and maintenance.

“One of the biggest investments in these houses that are bought and sold is the septic system,” he said, adding some issues requiring correction could cost upward of $10,000.

Well and septic systems are checked for construction, water quality, drainfield size and conditions, and more, Allen said. His team helps ensure there is no environmental or public health hazard.

“Over the last three years, we’ve done about 3,800 real estate evaluations with the health department,” he said.

In that time, his team has found 40 buried well heads, 57 wells close to septic components, 60 improperly abandoned wells, 25 locations where septic systems drained directly into a ditch, seven septic systems on the wrong property, 63 undersized septic systems, 54 septic systems full of sludge and more, Allen said.

“We are one of only seven counties in the state of Michigan to have a real estate inspection program,” he said. “There are not that many, and those that don’t have it wish that they did. It’s a very good tool and mechanism.”

More information on septic and well care, as well as real estate evaluations, can be found at miottawa.org/landevaluation.

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