When the tenants in Kathy Wallace’s house in eastern El Paso County made an offer to her in April to purchase the home, neither party knew there were problems with the septic tank.|
After they received the offer from her tenants, it took a few months to work out the details, Wallace said. “The buyers had a septic inspection attempted on June 7,” she said. “We failed our test. Our system was not actually tested because there was water in the inspection ports.”
Wallace, who currently lives in Washington, was a long-time resident of EPC before moving out of state; but she has maintained ownership of her Colorado property, returning annually to inspect the house, she said.
For Wallace to sell her house, she needed to obtain an acceptance document from the El Paso County Public Health Department, which required the septic system test. If the system does not pass the test, the county will not issue an acceptance document, she said.
“No acceptance document, no title transfer,” Wallace said. “Period.”
According to the EPC website, the county enacted a new regulation on Jan. 1, 2015, based on Colorado State Statute, that “requires a property owner, or transferor, of a residence or other building/facility served by an on-site wastewater treatment system (OWTS) to have an inspection of that system to demonstrate that the system is functioning according to design prior to the sale or transfer of title of the property.”
The fee for submitting an acceptance document application is $55.
Wallace said she paid the fee, submitted her application and was given a “conditional acceptance document” because the septic system did not pass the test. The conditional acceptance document allowed the sale to go through but required that the septic system issues be addressed within 90 days, she said.
Aaron Doussett, water quality program manager with EPCPH, said the new regulations changed the way a septic system can properly function. “There has been a term in the past called an individual disposal septic system,” Doussett said. “Disposal is something we have done in the past, simply disposing of sewage and effluence. After a seven-year stakeholder process, in 2014 the state of Colorado came out with the OWTS and the philosophy is in those two names: from disposal to treatment.”
Doussett said about 14 percent of the acceptance document applications the county receives end up with a system that needs something done to keep it functioning properly, and the ultimate goal is to protect the drinking water and maintain the public’s safety, he said.
Wallace said her system was installed when the house was built in 2004. It used a gravity-fed system, which allows gravity to advance wastewater throughout the system. However, the leach field, the area where the liquid from the septic tank is slowly discharged through a series of perforated pipes buried in the ground, became saturated and needed to be supplemented with a second leach field in 2014, she said. That new leach field cost Wallace $6,000, she said.
With the new leach field only four years old, Wallace said she was surprised to hear that her septic system failed the test, but she took the necessary steps to address the issues. Soil tests, which cost $1,200, showed that the soil on her property required an engineered septic design, she said. That design cost $800 and an additional $300 would be assessed for inspections and a report from EPC, when the new system is constructed, Wallace said. A quote for the excavation for construction of the new system was $20,000, she said.
Doussett said the EPC definition for failure of a septic system is when sewage is coming out of the ground or backing up into the house. “That would likely be known to the homeowner,” he said.
But a system can also be considered “tired” or “under-functioning” if it is not draining properly, which was the case with Wallace’s septic system, she said.
Doussett said a tired or under-functioning designation indicates the system did not pass the test but the conditional acceptance document acknowledges that system maintenance can be done to bring the system into compliance. “It is not a failed system but it needs maintenance which, in a proactive way, can be less expensive than an actual repair,” he said. “Homeowners can potentially do things that are relatively inexpensive to prolong the life of the system.”
Jody Heffner, a real estate agent in Falcon, Colorado, said he always recommends that his clients have their septic system inspected within a few weeks of listing it to avoid surprises like those Wallace faced. But often people do not know they need that inspection before selling, which is where an educated real estate agent can help, he said.
“If the real estate agent is not accustomed to working out here (in eastern EPC), they are not representing their clients as strongly as they should, especially if they do not know about this type of thing,” Heffner said.
Doussett said the county annually conducts an education and outreach program for the real estate community since the agents are often the knowledge base for things like a septic system inspection. “The primary thing is that septic system maintenance needs to be done,” he said. “Sellers need to know that it needs to be done; and, in many cases, it just confirms that the system is working for the potential buyers.”
“The state imposed this new system on the counties because there are a lot of bad septic systems out there,” Wallace said. “There are higher standards now that the county is using; and, if they had implemented those regulations in 2014 when we made the repairs, maybe I would not have encountered this problem now.”
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On Oct. 17, envida, a nonprofit organization in Colorado Springs, launched their new transportation route in eastern El Paso County — called the Calhan Connection. Formerly Amblicab, envida provides low cost transportation and home health care to older individuals.
Rural transit route launches in Calhan
Gail Nehls, envida chief executive officer, said that at a meeting at the community outreach center in Calhan a year ago residents requested more transportation options.
“We applied for grants at the state, federal and local levels to meet the needs of people going to medical appointments, shopping appointments, educational classes and visits with family in town,” Nehls said.
The bus will depart from the Calhan outreach center at 7:05 a.m. and 12:40 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday and stop at the following locations: Calhan post office, Peyton post office, Falcon Walmart, St. Francis Medical Center, UCHealth Memorial Hospital North and Mountain Metro Transit Hub on Briargate Parkway and Voyager Parkway, Nehls said.
“The bus will make two round trips per day and costs $5 one way unless the person is 60 or older, and then it is free,” she said. “We will be tracking the number of trips per week per month; and, if there is a greater need, we will be looking at deploying the route more frequently.”
Until mid-to-late-spring 2019 when a new bus becomes available, Nehls said the bus will have seating for 10 and wheelchair accessibility.
This type of transportation route is important to the community because it helps support independent living for residents without access to a vehicle, she said.
“We heard stories about people driving back from Colorado Springs after having dialysis or those with macular degeneration who were still driving,” Nehls said. “We are really excited about getting this route put together and to be able to support the community in that way.”
The schedule for the Calhan Connection bus is available on envida’s website at http://www.envidacares.org.