Lacombe County residents who use septic systems could see their bills to get rid of waste soar by hundreds of dollars a month.
Companies that haul septic waste for customers are running out of disposal sites because municipal treatment locations are nearing capacity and won’t accept more waste. The only clear option currently is to truck waste to Red Deer, which drastically boosts transportation costs, said members of a delegation representing several septic companies that appeared before county council Friday.
The problem is about to get much worse because Alberta Environment has ordered septage haulers to stop spreading waste from outside sources on farmland at the end of the month because of safety and environmental concerns. Dumping on frozen ground increases the chances waste will run off into creeks or other water sources.
In hopes of offering temporary relief to homeowners, council voted to ask Alberta Environment to allow dumping on farmland this winter while other solutions are sought.
County Reeve Terry Engen said the county will be looking at all options in coming months.
“I think in the short term if people think we can just snap our fingers, and (say) ‘Oh, by the way, we have a place to look after this;’ it’s not in the cards right now.”
Bob Szasz, who is part owner of D&R Septic, said his customers west of Gull Lake could see the bill to get rid of the contents of their septic tanks jump to $400 from $140. Rural customers typically need tanks emptied at least once a month and some even more frequently.
Finding a place for septage wasn’t a big problem in the past because there was plenty of capacity in municipal lagoons and haulers could dump on farmland throughout the year. Although winter dumping has technically not been allowed for a number of years, it was not enforced by Alberta Environment.
Council heard the issue came to the forefront when rural residents complained about regular dumping on nearby farmland.
Rhonda Szasz, another D&R Septic owner, said she fears the provincial government’s lack of enforcement will put companies like hers at a disadvantage. Customers faced with big bills may just pick a company that dumps on farmland despite the ban in return for reduced hauling charges.
David Helmer, an approvals manager for Alberta Environment’s Red Deer office, said it’s up to the county to take the lead on finding places to take septic waste. If the county wants to approve housing, it should consider whether there is a place for waste.
Helmer said the province is identifying places that can take the waste and their capacity. The county can then negotiate agreements with municipalities to take waste water.
“The situation is there is no available waste water treatment in this area. There’s no waste water treatment because no one has looked for it yet.”
The county hopes a sewage line being built in the county just north of Sylvan Lake will provide some solution. A sewage receiving station will be built as part of the project that will take septic wastewater. However, it won’t be ready for six months.
Rhonda Szasz said the Sylvan sewage station will help that area, but residents in more distant parts of the county will still face expensive hauling charges unless something is done. Szasz favours the county and Alberta Environment working together to establish a series of lagoons.
She also plans to send a formal request from area hauling companies certified by the province will be sent to Alberta Environment asking them to step up enforcement of operators so there is a level playing field among all in the septic hauling business.