Management of sewage important consideration for producers
Landowners can expect to face growing pressures when it comes to rural septic systems.
Alberta farmers and ranchers that have completed Environmental Farm Plans (EFP) have consistently identified farm waste management among the top five environmental challenges, according to an AgriNews release.
“We know that many municipalities across the province are facing pressures to better manage water quality,” said Perry Phillip, Alberta Environmental Farm Plan program coordinator.
“They are dealing with issues such as grandfathering of older, substandard septic systems, application of sewage sludge to agricultural lands, as well as separation distances, particularly with regards to subdivision of farmsteads from the rest of the farmland.”
In Alberta, standards for the design, installation and material requirements of on-site private sewage systems are provided by the Private Sewage Systems Standard of Practice under the Safety Codes Act. Rocky View residents must also comply with the County’s wastewater policies. The policies, approved by council last May, define three levels of infrastructure, including regional wastewater systems, similar to the one that currently exists in Langdon; decentralized systems, which are smaller, communal systems and private sewage treatment systems.
The policies laid out new standards for private systems, requiring homeowners with lots less than four acres to install packaged private treatment plants, boosting the standard from the previous one, which allowed septic fields on lots between one and four acres in size.
The new rules also state the County won’t support the use of sewage holding tanks in residential subdivisions, but recommends their use in industrial, commercial and industrial land uses when no regional system is in place. They also establish a maximum allowable density before a larger system with regional tie-in is required.
According to Vivin Thomas, a Rocky View County engineer, the new policies were put in place after Rocky View completed a model process trial.
Thomas said proper management of sewage is “really important” especially considering the population of Rocky View.
“We are one of the (most dense) municipalities, we are surrounded by one of the largest… cities,” he said.
Thomas said the most common type of sewage treatment in the county is septic fields. There are several regional systems in place within the county, including one in Langdon, Bragg Creek and Bearspaw.
Thomas said residents considering development can contact the County for more information.
Developing an EFP for a farm or ranch is another way to assess risks to human health and groundwater associated with on-site sewage treatment systems, said Phillips, but producers will also want to know their responsibilities in developing new or revamping existing systems with regards to standards of practice, permits and regulations.
Alberta’s municipal affairs department estimates the average person produces 340 litres of wastewater that flows through a sewage treatment system every day.
“Most landowners want to develop an effective, properly designed system,” said Joe Petryk, senior field inspector for Alberta Municipal Affairs, who is a specialist in the septic area.
However, standards are just part of the picture. A septic system must meet the needs of the people living on the farm.
“For this reason, knowledge of the property and your family’s lifestyle is key,” said Petryk. “Any given septic system is as unique as the property it serves. Site gradients, the number of people living on the property, water usage/conservation and soil characteristics are just some of the factors that must be considered when deciding the kind of septic system to install.”
Making the right decision on a treatment system depends to a large degree on soil characteristics of the site. The Province’s Standard of Practice requires a site evaluation to be conducted, including test pits to be dug to produce a soil profile. A soil sample of the most limiting condition within the proposed treatment zone is collected and sent to a laboratory for analysis to determine the texture of the soil. The soil texture classification is now the approved method to determine the effluent soil loading rates for the treatment system design.
A soils percolation rate test is no longer acceptable to determine the soils capacity to take on effluent and will only be used in support of a design that is based on a soil profile investigation.
For more detailed information, visit the Alberta Environmental Farm Plan website at www.albertaefp.com