Honeymoon Bay Septic Pilot Study Update
Innovative Technology Installed and Being Tested to Improve Water Quality
Spokane Conservation District is collaborating with the Washington State Department of Ecology, Spokane County, and local property owners to improve the health of Newman Lake by finding an alternative to failing septic systems. A pilot project, started this spring, aimed at installing small-scale enhanced treatment upgrades for two sites in Honeymoon Bay. This state-of-the-art technology has been shown to be far more effective at protecting public health and water quality than the systems currently in use.
What will the project accomplish?
Our work at Newman Lake has shown that septic systems contribute to high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen, causing frequent water quality issues such as excessive algae and aquatic plant growth. This project will allow monitoring of the wastewater when discharged from the enhanced treatment systems.
If discharged water meets or is cleaner than groundwater standards, the new technology will stay in place and serve as a model for other parcels. If not, they will be removed and each site must revert to an alternative system that protects water quality. Ecology and SCD would then need to review our regulatory options for ensuring an effective treatment system for residents.
What type of systems will be installed?
The Honeymoon Bay Pilot Study entered a new phase this summer with system installation. The first system, from the manufacturer Busse, was installed in June (see photos). This system is the first of its type installed in the State of Washington. This system is an above-ground system contained in a shed. In other situations this system can be put into a vault or even inside the home, depending on the individual space constraints. This system uses membrane bioreactor technology to separate coarse biodegradable material before pumping wastewater to an aeration section, where remaining organic matter breaks down. Treated wastewater then passes through microfiltration membranes to eliminate suspended material and bacteria, achieving treatment levels many times greater than a standard septic system. At this point, the system sends the cleaned water to a micro emitter irrigation system to their lawn for infiltration.
The SCD is measuring the water quality that is discharged from this system. Sampling of this system shows a high level of treatment. The SCD is measuring for Turbidity, Total Suspended Solids, Total Coliform, BOD, CBOD, Dissolved Oxygen, pH, Total Nitrogen, and Total Phosphorus, on a weekly basis through the pilot study. Small refinements with the manufacturer, in response to the sampling results, are taking place through the study, in order to achieve the best results.
In August, the SCD is looking forward to installing and monitoring a second system, from the manufacturer Biomicrobics. This system will be an in-ground system, discharging to a traditional tank and drain field, while utilizing similar membrane bioreactor technology and has been shown to also produce high-quality treatment levels. These systems are currently in use in Washington but in more traditional settings and drain fields. The SCD hopes these systems show a similar high level of treatment as the Busse systems, which may allow for a smaller drain field and allow homeowners with smaller lawns to have another option for septic systems.
Why is Ecology issuing a permit for this project and not the Department of Health?
While Spokane Regional Health District typically oversees on-site septic systems, they can only issue permits on systems designed for in-ground treatment. The pilot systems will instead treat waste before discharging cleaned water to existing drain fields. Ecology would therefore permit these systems with a state waste discharge permit, which can only be issued to public entities.
How much will this cost?
A May, 2018 agreement between Ecology and SCD includes about $200,000 for the pilot project. Costs for installation, operation and maintenance are likely to vary from site to site, based on a variety of factors. Ecology on-site sewage system loans or grants could provide funding to land owners to install these systems.
How does this affect me?
Poor water quality caused by septic systems has been a widespread, long-term issue impacting property owners around Newman Lake. The early results from the system are positive showing massive improvement in water that is discharging to the lake. While this project is in the early stages, if it proves successful and property owners agree, similar small-scale treatment systems could be installed on properties around the lake over several years. The SCD is working with the residents, other government agencies, and water providers, to create a community-based organization that can handle implementing these types of systems around the lake to improve water quality.
Who can I contact for more information?
Lindsay Chutas – Spokane Conservation District – Lindsayemail@example.com – 509-535-7274
Seth Elsen – Washington Department of Ecology – Seth.firstname.lastname@example.org – 360-407-6703