Land Use and Environmental Planning

Overview of the Sewerage System Regulation

The Sewerage System Regulation replaces the old Sewage Disposal Regulation. This regulation along with the companion document, the Sewerage System Standard Practice Manual, shifts the focus of managing on-site sewage systems through the application of an outcome based approach to wastewater management which allows for greater flexibility in terms of how these systems are regulated.

The regulation covers:

  • Systems which process a sewage flow of < 22 700 L
  • Single family systems or duplexes
  • Combination of sewerage systems which address different buildings on a single parcel of land
  • Structures which serves 1 or more parcels on strata lots or on a shared interest of land.

The regulation requires that:

  • Discharges do not cause or contribute to a health hazard
  • Only authorized persons construct and/or maintain on-site sewage systems -- training and certification of persons installing and maintaining wastewater systems
  • Systems must be designed in accordance with the regulations including adherence to strict performance standards
  • The authorized person files applications for construction or alteration of a system with the health authority
  • Establishes maintenance requirements for the system.
  • Ongoing system records be kept, ensuring industry and owner accountability.

New on-site sewage systems must also ensure that that they obtain the proper certificates and approvals from other government Ministries and ensure that they comply with requirements under the Sanitary Regulations under the Health Act, the Subdivision Regulations under the Local Services Act and any applicable municipal or regional district bylaws which may exist concerning the construction of these systems. (For information on the relevance of these regulatory measures, please see Regulations/Legislation).

Larger wastewater systems are addressed by the Ministry of Environment under the Municipal Sewage Regulation under the Environmental Management Act. For more information on the management of municipal systems or for systems with flows greater than 22,700 L/day, please refer to the Ministry of Environment Web Page on Municipal Sewage.

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About the OWRP

The manner in which onsite wastewater/sewerage system services are provided by industry changed May 31, 2005 with the new Sewerage System Regulation of the Ministry of Health Services. Not only has the role of the BC Government (in particular the Health Authorities) changed, but a new professional role has been created for the Applied Science Technologists & Technicians of British Columbia (ASTTBC) as well.

Under the new regulation an industry practitioner must be registered with "a registration certificate issued by the Applied Science Technologists & Technicians of British Columbia that certifies that the holder is competent to construct and maintain a sewerage system that uses a treatment method classified as Type 1 or Type 2". An existing 'professional', another 'authorized person' defined within the regulation, is excluded from the ASTTBC registration requirements.

The new regulation affects those providing the following onsite wastewater services...

  • Site assessment
  • Installation
  • Maintenance, a new service area being regulated

The new regulation applies to all types of onsite wastewater systems, from septic systems for single-family homes to complex systems for multi-residential, industrial and commercial applications.

In its role under this new business environment, ASTTBC has partnered with the Ministry of Health Services, the five Health Authorities and the BC OnSite Sewage Association (BCOSSA) - the training agency. Each will play an important role in implementing the new regulation.

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Answers to frequently asked questions about the Sewerage System Regulation, as compiled by the Ministry of Health Services:

Q - Why was the On-site Septic System Regulation changed to the Sewerage System Regulation (SSR) on May 31, 2005?
A - Three key reasons were:

  • The regulation offers the health authorities a mechanism to reposition resources to programs with higher-level health outcomes, such as drinking water and communicable diseases, while ensuring that on-site systems are appropriately-as the staff were spending 20 to 40 per cent of their time on sewage systems.
  • The regulation replaces health authority directed regulation with industry accountability.
  • The regulation also reduces regulatory burdens and provides flexibility for emerging technology by substituting prescriptions with practice standards.

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Q - What is BCOSSA and what do they do?
A - BCOSSA stands for BC On-Site Sewage Association

  • BCOSSA is responsible in the Sewerage System Regulation for ensuring that all contractors have the appropriate education/experience and then recommends to ASTTBC (certifying body) those contractors that have appropriate education and experience for registration.
  • BCOSSA offers education through the Westcoast Onsite Wastewater Training Centre (WOWTC) at Royal Roads University.
  • BCOSSA provides this education to all areas of the province.

Q - What is ASTTBC and what do they do?
A - ASTTBC stands for Applied Science Technologists & Technicians of British Columbia

  • ASTTBC registers individuals from a wide range of activities and part of their mandate is the maintenance of a high standard of practice and ethics.
  • ASTTBC is named in the legislation and addresses complaints/discipline part of regulating the contractors.
  • A practitioner registered with ASTTBC is held to the ASTTBC Code of Ethics and other by-laws, so if a complaint is made to ASTTBC regarding a registered practitioner, they can evaluate the merits of the complaint and investigate and discipline the registered practitioner, if necessary.

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Q - What training opportunities has BCOSSA offered in the past, and what is their plan for future education offerings?
A - Since summer/fall of 2004, BCOSSA has defined the courses and course content currently available through the Westcoast Onsite Wastewater Training Centre operated in partnership with Royal Roads University, Victoria.

Courses are kept current and appropriate.

Courses have been offered in various areas of the province and at several times (eg: Prince George, Kelowna, Nelson) to help reduce the burden of taking the courses in Victoria.

Some courses are offered as a correspondence or home-study.

The Training Centre is currently working on a series of courses for professionals, eg: engineers, to help meet the needs of those contractors in this field as well as identifying and addressing other educational needs/availability in all areas in the province.

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Q- Do septic systems cost homeowners more now than before?
A - Yes, for two reasons:

  1. The standard of systems has been elevated.
  2. The actual cost of assessment and design is no longer subsidized by the health authority.
  • First, the prescriptive nature of the previous regulation tried to incorporate the treatment of sewage into its various requirements and also relied on the expertise and professionalism of the Medical Health Officer via Public Health Inspectors (MHO/PHI) as a final authority by making septic system construction a permitted activity. With the SSR, the new filing process for septic system construction removed MHO/PHI permits and placed the responsibility of system construction and maintenance on industry and the homeowner. To balance reduced health authority involvement, treatment of sewage has become the primary outcome and is the focus of the SSR through the Standard Practice Manual where systems now are typically larger and more complicated to help ensure sewage is properly treated. Moreover, the homeowner's responsibility to ensure proper maintenance of his/her septic system constructed under the SSR helps to ensure the long-term treatment of sewage from septic systems as a whole. In addition, the site assessment now incorporates a more substantial soils analysis because the natural soil structure and consistence of the area the sewage infiltrates into is very important in the treatment of the sewage.
  • Second, the permit process of the old regulation was very resource intensive and was one of the reasons the health authorities supported the SSR. The main cost of the permit process under the previous regulation was the need to assess each application on the appropriateness of the proposed design for both the proposed building and the lot. These costs were certainly not recovered in the permit fee. With the SSR, those costs are now part of the construction process of septic systems.

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Q - Why is the filing fee $200?
A - To help off-set the health authorities costs associated with investigating complaints in the field and from other agencies, working with other agencies to help resolve issues around sewage, issuing tickets and orders, and managing the filings.
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Q - Is there assistance for homeowners on fixed incomes?
A - A low-income homeowner may be eligible for assistance through a CMHC program called Homeowner Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program. There are eligibility requirements that must be met.

Q - What mechanisms are in place to ensure a fair price is charged for systems?
A - Market competition and homeowner diligence will keep costs appropriate. The standard market system is what is in place to ensure appropriate costs are charged. Similar to purchasing a car, a homeowner should consult with several (eg: three) authorized persons (registered designers) to find what system design is appropriate for their situation as well as the materials needed and construction costs from registered installers. Time is needed for the market to adjust.

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Q - What about insurance for the homeowner of a failed system constructed after May 31, 2005?
A - The homeowner should go back to the authorized person who completed the filing documents with the health authority. The authorized person should behave professionally and ethically, and help the homeowner with the failure.

  • As authorized persons defined in the SSR, they are governed by their registering body: for registered practitioners it is the Applied Science Technologists & Technicians of British Columbia (ASTTBC) and for engineers, it is the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC (APEGBC).
  • There is a complaint review process within both of these registering bodies regarding their members' professional and ethical practices. If an authorized person is found to be practising unethically or unprofessionally, then the registering body will likely take corrective action. With this in mind, most authorized persons will help homeowners as a matter of professional and ethical practice as well as to avoid the complaint process with their registering body.

Q - Insurance for authorized persons?
A - Currently, BCOSSA is investigating the possibility of insuring the registered practitioners as they and ASTTBC have found it difficult to find an underwriter that understands the nature of this business and will provide errors and omissions coverage at a reasonable cost. ASTTBC currently has insurance that may cover registered practitioners for the time being. Professional engineers are covered under their Association.

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Liability - Homeowner
Q - How does homeowner liability apply?
A - The issue of homeowner liability has not changed significantly from the previous regulation.

The homeowner still must: not cause or contribute to a health hazard, repair a failed system, and ensure the proper documentation procedure is followed with the health authority. Only the specifics regarding these homeowner obligations has changed with the SSR, ie: use of authorized persons only for construction and maintenance, filing as opposed to permits, and filing prior to construction.

It should also be noted that the number and extent of lawsuits have been few. Most resulted from improper permit process procedures rather than actual system failures. The Environmental Appeal Board was very active in resolving disputes with the old regulation, and as the permit process is no longer in the SSR, this body is no longer applicable to the construction of septic systems.

Application of the Regulation
Q - What does the public do when they think sewage is surfacing on the ground?
A - As this is an obvious health concern, they should contact their health authority's local public health office.

Q - Does the Sewerage System Regulation (SSR) apply (including maintenance) to systems constructed prior to May 31, 2005?
A - No. However, any significant alteration or a repair of an existing system must be filed under the SSR, eg: adding a bedroom to a house, relocating a tank for a garage, replacing a failed/ruined system.

Q - Purchasing a house with a septic system constructed prior to May 31, 2005?
A - The SSR is not retroactive. However, the seller should be able to prove that the system was in compliance with the regulation in effect at the time the system was constructed. A permit was required for systems from 1972 to May 30, 2005. So if a system was constructed in that time, then a permit should be available at the local health authority. Please keep in mind that many documents have been lost/destroyed through the years, so the lack of information at the health unit may not necessarily mean that a permit was not taken.

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Q - What about selling a house with a septic system constructed prior to May 31, 2005?
A - Seller must disclose any known problems with the septic system. Typically, a record of pumping (of the septic tank) and a copy of the septic permit (if applicable) is usually sufficient for disclosure purposes - consult with a realtor for more information. If the house is a recent construction, then the new home warranty may also be available. Filing with the health authority is only required if there is a substantive change to the system.

Q - How is information getting out to stakeholders and the public now?
A - MOH is currently on the BCOSSA Board of Directors, sits on the WOWTC Board meetings, chairs the Sewerage System Steering Committee, and is regularly contacted by health authorities, authorized persons and the general public. In addition, BCOSSA and ASTTBC have web sites and are referred inquiries associated with training, registration and other operational questions.

Q - Who can the Minister contact for region-specific questions?
A - The director of the appropriate health authority should be familiar with issues in their region. Also, Lucy Beck, Director of NHA, is also the Director's Council member on the Sewerage Steering Committee that is chaired by MOH.