Franklin Township has areas with serious sewer problems, according to Paul Wenning, a Special Projects Coordinator at the Franklin County Board of Health.
At the July 10 Board of Trustees meeting, Wenning said the Board of Health has been working in conjunction with Franklin County Soil and Water Conservation Division to take samples of what are called “outfalls,” or sewer pipes, from different areas in Franklin County. Eighteen samples were taken in the Franklin Township area.
“Most of those outfalls had very high bacterial levels. Far higher than the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] standards for NPDES Phase II and considerably higher than Ohio EPA and Ohio Department of Health standards for household sewage systems,” said Wenning.
Wenning acknowledged that residents in an area known as “Moneyback,” and an area known as Skidmore Hills Estate were complaining that their sewage systems were failing with sewage “bubbling up” into their homes.
Moneyback is a subdivision that includes the streets of Dover, Plainview, Brookside and a part of El Paso and Lowell off of Wilson Road, close to the I-70 interchange. Skidmore Hills Estate is also a subdivision, but it is on the west side of Hague Avenue, close to the North Franklin Elementary School. Skidmore also includes El Paso and Lowell roads.
Tim Guyton expressed concern for Moneyback residents, most of whom have septic tanks instead of city water, and how their sewage problems could affect them.
“These people on Skidmore Hills have city water; the people on Moneyback do not. So for the failing systems that Moneyback has, that is very detrimental to life on Moneyback, more so than Skidmore. For all intents and purposes, they are washing, drinking and cooking in their own mess,” said Guyton.
Wenning said Tom Shockley, Franklin County sanitary engineer, is going to the Columbus City Commissioners with this information in hopes of getting funding to fix the septic systems.
“We recognize that Moneyback has a serious problem. The unfortunate thing is that just like these areas in Franklin Township, we have other areas around the county that are as bad and we have areas where people literally are drinking their own sewage,” said Wenning.
Shockley said his office has a couple of state sources they usually get funding from, including the Ohio Water Development Authority and the Ohio Public Works Commission, but said it is very unlikely they will get the funding since most of the monies are usually granted towards building roads and bridges rather than for building sewer systems. He added that the competitions for funds is brutal.
Shockley said the commissioners gave his department $2 million five or six years ago when they started out with 13 projects throughout Franklin County but there are still eight projects left and the funds are gone.
“The fact that we have to go to the commissioners would only happen if they can input the project into their budget in 2009. It’s a source we could use, but it’s very unlikely it’ll happen. For all these projects I’m looking at a total of $20 million. It’s very difficult. You can’t find that kind of money to do this,” said.
Shockley said it would take $4.5 million to fix the entire Moneyback sewer system and $1.5 million to fix the Skidmore Hills area, so his department may try to breakdown the Moneyback project into smaller pockets so the worst areas can get attention.
Shockley added the City of Columbus is able to maintain their sewer systems because they can raise rates, issue bonds and are also under a mandate to fix their sewer systems, while his mandate is strictly crisis-driven.
Wenning said it is possible there are people in the Franklin Township that do not know their septic system is failing
“We don’t want to tell them not to use their water, we tell them to get their water tested. We don’t want to make a blanket statement that the water isn’t any good. So even if it comes back and says bacteria, it make not mean sewage, it may just mean you need to clean your septic tank,” said Wenning.
Wenning said there is a battery of bacterial tests conducted that indicate if someone has a sewage problem.
“If the wells seem to be well-designed and maintained, and there’s no water pooling or puddling, I wouldn’t recommend they do the whole test,” said Wenning.
There are some things homeowners can do to prevent a failing septic system.
“The thing that we learned when we did the investigation on El Paso is that surface water on top of a leach field is the biggest single factor that will cause the failure of a septic system,” said Shockley.
According to Shockley, standing water during rain on a leach field is an indication of a problem. A leach field is the filter system on certain septic systems that separate the liquid from the solid.
“Another thing is the proper maintenance of leach systems,” said Shockley. “You can’t send sanitary napkins and you can’t have a disposal in a septic and leach field.”