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On-Site Waste Disposal Systems (Septics)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's)

 

WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT A PDEQ SEPTIC INSPECTION?

Pima County septic inspectors follow a standard checklist compiled from the Arizona Adimistrative Code, Title 18.  Clicking on the pictures below will
open a slide presentation detailing the inspection process.

chamber   trench

 


HOW DO SEPTICS WORK?

Wastewater is removed from a building by a pipe that drains into a watertight septic tank.  The tank holds the waste while the solids settle to the bottom.  Sludges, like oil and grease, float to the top.  An outlet pipe drains the resulting middle layer of liquid effluent and gravity sends it to the distribution box, which allows it to free flow equally to all distribution lines.  This liquid then absorbs into the soil, which filters and treats the effluent during its passage to groundwater.


WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CONVENTIONAL AND ALTERNATIVE SYSTEMS?

The most basic system, the conventional, consists of a septic tank, a distribution box, distribution lines and enough available, native soil, capable of treating the liquid waste. 

Septic Illustration

Conventional Septic System

An alternative system requires engineering considerations beyond a conventional system, to address limiting site conditions (high water table, impervious soil, rock layer, etc.) and/or proper effluent treatment. 




WHAT FACTORS ARE CONSIDERED IN A SEPTIC DESIGN?

Once a site investigation per AAC R18-9-A310 determines suitability for a septic installation, a design begins with determining the amount of effluent that will be discharged daily from the structure.  For a residence, Pima County bases its calculations on the number of bedrooms and the number, and type, of plumbing fixtures in the home.  This information is used to determine the necessary tank size, per AAC R18-9-A314(4).  It is also used as a factor in determining the necessary size of the disposal field.  The other factor in the discharge calculation is derived from the soils evaluation.  Based upon the soils' ability to drain and treat the liquid effluent, a soil absorption rate (SAR) is assigned.  AAC R18-9-A312(D) describes the SAR process.



WHEN IS A PERCOLATION TEST ACCEPTABLE?  WHEN IS AN ASTM SOILS ANALYSIS RQUIRED?

These two methods of examining the subsurface conditions of a proposed septic site determine the native soils' ability to treat and remove liquid effluent.  Per AAC 18-9-A310(D)(3)(b), a percolation test is acceptable except where the specified limiting conditions occur, in which case, a full ASTM soils analysis is required.


WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN A TRENCH SYSTEM AND A CHAMBER SYSTEM?

Trenches and chambers refer to the distribution lines section of a septic system.  A trench system involves using 3" or 4" diameter, perforated, PVC pipe to distribute the liquid effluent to the soil for treatment.  This option requires the use of clean, specifically-sized aggregate to specified depths above and below the pipe.  A chamber system uses larger, half-pipe plastic sections linked end-to-end resulting in the system design length.  No aggregate is needed in a chamber installation.

 

WHAT ARE SETBACK REQUIREMENTS?

Septic systems can safely remove and treat effluent without disrupting the day-to-day lives of the structure's inhabitants if conflict requirements are met.  It is important to keep buffer distances between all parts of the septic system and other areas of the property such as:  wells, swimming pools, structures, property lines, etc., in order to protect the environment and public health.  A complete list of setback requirements can be found at AAC R18-9-A312(C).



HOW CAN I FIND A SEPTIC SYSTEM DESIGNER AND/OR INSTALLER?

In determining the appropriate design and location of a proposed septic system, a site investigation report is required under
AAC R18-9-A309(B)(1).  Only reports completed by investigators qualified under AAC R18-9-A310(H) are acceptable.
Both designers and installers of septic systems can be found in the local business telephone directory.

Per, Arizona Revised Statute Title 32, Chapter 1, an Arizona-registered, professional engineer is required in the design process when the total construction costs will exceeed $12,500.00.  The Board of Technical Registration of Arizona maintains the appropriate certifications and provides a complaint process.

The Arizona Registrar of Contractors can also provide helpful information about installers, including lists of current contractors and a process for complaints.

Aside from hiring a licensed and bonded professional, consumer protection can be enhanced by directly asking for pertinent information.  During hiring considerations, have the service provide references, work history, warranty information (for individual parts and the entire system), and a detailed, written estimate/contract.


WHAT IS THE PIMA COUNTY SEPTIC APPROVAL PROCESS?

The process begins when the customer, or their designate, submits a conventional or alternative "Notice of Intent to Discharge," with the appropriate attachments per AAC 18-9-A309(B), to the Pima County Department of Development Services.

Upon review and approval of the design, Pima County Department of Development Services will issue a "Construction Authorization."  When construction of the system is complete, PDEQ personnel will inspect the components of conventional trench or chamber systems, and also ensure the existing soil conditions match the design.  If deficiencies are found, they must be corrected before the "Discharge Authorization" is granted.

In the case of an alternative system, the engineer of record is responsible for inspecting the system and submitting the
Certificate of Completion, as well as other required documents per AAC R18-9-A309(C).  PDEQ personnel will attend the inspection for verification, and should be contacted a minimum of 48 hours in advance.



HOW DO I SCHEDULE A SEPTIC INSPECTION?

For a conventional system not located in a remote area, the inspection request is handled via the Development Services IVR system at (520) 740-6970.  (Note:  As of February 1, 2007, please do not call building codes inspectors for septic-related information.)  This request, if received before 3:30 PM, will be placed on the next day's inspection schedule.   A conventional system located in the remote areas of AJO, ARIVACA, LUKEVILLE, MT. LEMMON, REDINGTON, SASABE and WHY needs to be scheduled directly with PDEQ inspectors 48 hours in advance at (520) 724-7400. Please provide permit/activity number, address of property and responsible party contact information when calling.

An alternative system inspection needs to be completed by the engineer of record, however, PDEQ reserves the right to attend and verify the procedure.  PDEQ personnel require 48 hours notice for a non-remote area system inspection, and 72 hours notice for a remote area system inspection.  Please call (520) 724-7400 and ask to speak with an alternative system plan reviewer to schedule.



WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW WHEN SELLING OR TRANSFERRING PROPERTY WITH A SEPTIC SYSTEM?


Prior to the sale or transfer of a property with an on-site wastewater disposal system, the system must be inspected by a qualified person in accordance with AAC R18-9-A316. The Report of Inspection must be submitted to PDEQ along with a fee of $50.00 prior to the sale or transfer of the property.  The new owner (buyer) must submit a Notice of Transfer to PDEQ within fifteen (15) calendar days after the sale or transfer of the property


WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT USING GRAY WATER AT MY HOME?


"Gray water is defined as wastewater, collected separately from your sewage flow, that originates from a clothes washer, bathtub, shower or sink, but NOT from a kitchen sink, dishwasher or toilet."

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has a brochure available to guide homeowners in the use of gray water:  Using Gray Water at Home.

 


WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MAINTAINING MY SEPTIC SYSTEM?


The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension has published several documents guiding homeowners in the long term
care of their septic systems:

"Understanding Your Household Septic System"

"Managing Your Household Septic System"

"Maintaining Your Septic Tank"

"Inspecting Your Household Septic System"

"Antibacterial Products in Septic Systems"

"Operation and Maintenance Tips for Your Septic System"

 




























































































































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