October 2007

Septic systems: Should we be concerned?

By Galen Larson

After reading the article in the September Free Press about Bluff, Utah’s, septic problems, I decided to do some research on the regulations of the same in Montezuma County.

We could very well be in the same fix 30 years down the road with the sparse regulations on septic systems and coming development.

First off, I find that the state leaves the permits and regulations up to the counties. Also, that some counties are fairly stringent and others lackadaisical about them. Park County has 86 pages of guidelines and permit requirements. Now, that might seem excessive to some, but it does protect their pristine area and water supply. I believe anyone with common sense would support that.

Colorado may seem like a mountainous green state. It is also a state with limited potable water. Beneath the surface is a geologist’s treasure. Here in Montezuma County we have a number of problems to address. There are different soil types in the area from sandstone, clay and sand. Some are more porous than others, which the engineers who design these systems should be more concerned with. Do they have the knowledge to make these decisions?

I attended a commissioners’ meeting some time back on a proposed development a large number of residents of the area were opposed to, stating the same rhetoric: speeding cars, more dogs and cats, fences torn down, accidents, noise in a rural area. All these concerns can be addressed with law enforcement, but the subject of septic systems never came up.

I took the time to look up the meaning of septic and here’s what Webster’s says:

Septic: putrefactive 2: relating to or characteristic of Sepsis. Sepsis: a poisoned condition resulting from the spread of bacteria or their poisonous products from a center of infection.

Now that may be a little harder to control if it gets into the water supply. To my knowledge, there are numerous Third World countries already battling diseases brought about by this contamination.

I grew up in a farming area and we all had septic systems. These were not regulated by the county; just engineered by a person who made a business of their placement. We didn’t have the plastic or pre-manufactured concrete styles available now. So it was dig a hole, pour a slab, form up the sides with an inlet and outlet. I’m not sure there was a baffle in the tank as there are in more modern prefabs.

Now they are having problems with the groundwater and wells, some so contaminated they have to be sealed. In the past we have had some septic problems here in the county. As I remember, there was a trailer park that had raw sewage running through it — shades of a Third World nation. There was also quite an uproar over another problem in McElmo Canyon. To make mistakes through ignorance is understandable.

To make mistakes when one knows better is criminal. As much as we would like to think so, this is not our land. It belongs to the coming generations.

There is much said on television by financial advisors to invest our money wisely and leave something for our children and grandchildren. Money won’t mean much if the ecosystem has been destroyed.

One can believe what he or she wants, but all that keeps this planet habitable is the air, soil and water. The majority of the time it is the unseen that does the most damage.

Montezuma County will continue to grow, but if we are to prosper we must take note of the hidden dangers of uncontrolled development. We are now quite awakened to the bad air problems. It is getting some attention from forward thinkers, as stated by a number of people at the Towaoc hearing. Still, there was no one from the county commissioners or the governors’ offices of either Colorado or New Mexico. We were once again talking to the chair.

These events may relieve our conscience, but they achieve nothing; until we get the elected officials convinced, nothing will get done.

Perhaps if we had paid more attention to the direction our air quality was taking 30 years ago we would not be trying to fight a losing battle with Desert Rock and the other polluting coal-fired plants in the area.

This new plant is supposedly “state of the art” engineering, whatever that means. It’s just a small percentage more of pollutants; if the glass is already full, isn’t it common sense to realize with just a little more pollution it will run over?

With the lackadaisical attitude toward septic systems, 30 years in the future there will be a similar problem with the septic systems contaminating the meager water supply.

Our elected officials are supposed to serve for the will of their constituents. It seems that they just serve the few developers. They state that the air 50 years ago was not good, but refuse to see the contamination slowly seeping into the county. What one can see is bad enough; it is what one cannot see that does the most damage.

Anyway, the electricity being produced is not going to Montezuma County residents, it is likely going to Phoenix and Las Vegas, the two fastestgrowing cities in the West. With growth comes the need for water, and I’ll bet you can figure out where that will come from.

Why am I combining water, air and septic? Because the improper care of either can be disastrous to the future.

“Only a crisis — actual or perceived — produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.” — Milton Friedman

But at that time we are usually too late.

Galen Larson writes from Montezuma County.