LANSING – State Representative Sarah Roberts (D-St. Clair Shores) won an amendment today to House Bill 5298, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) budget, requiring the department to conduct a study on establishing a statewide septic code. The amendment passed by a unanimous vote.

“Michigan has more than 1.4 million septic tanks and other on-site wastewater treatment systems with more than 30 percent of families using septic systems rather than a municipal sewer system. Yet, we are the only state in the country without a statewide uniform sanitary septic code,” said Roberts. “With a wide variety of regulations and ordinances there is no real way for us to know how effective they are. This study will help us determine what we currently have and how a statewide septic code could bring improvements.”

DEQ estimates that more than 10 percent of the state’s 1.5 million septic systems are failing. Michigan lacks any uniform standards for how these systems are designed, built, installed and maintained. Enacting a statewide code would ensure that systems are properly maintained after they are installed. DEQ officials have said in the past that proper maintenance is a problem, and that most counties don’t check to see that septic systems are working properly once they are installed.

“We applaud Representative Roberts for her leadership on this critical issue,” said Nic Clark, director of Michigan Clean Water Action. “Nearly one-third of homes in the state rely on septic systems, and the current patchwork of regulations that exist now are not doing the job to protect Michigan’s waterways. In Kent County, for example, it is estimated that 1 million gallons of sewage leaks daily from septic systems. We are the only state in the country that hasn’t adopted a statewide sanitary code, and this study will lay the groundwork for finally addressing this long overdue need to clean up Michigan’s septic systems.”

“The news shows and newspapers cover the horror stories about sewage problems, but ensuring that septic systems are working and well-maintained is not an impossible or prohibitively expensive task,” said Roberts. “I hope that by doing this study we can work with our local governments to create a statewide code that could be implemented at the local level. It’s in the state’s best interest to help communities with this through available grant and loan programs at the both the state and federal level. We market ourselves as ‘Pure Michigan,’ which means that we have to continue being good stewards of our state and do what is best for our communities and our waterways. A statewide sanitary code could help us do just that.”