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Keri Lindberg

Municipal Guide To Clean Water: Conducting Sanitary Surveys to Improve Coastal Water Quality

The following are basic guidelines to follow while surveying properties:59 Property inspections can only be conducted by authorized municipal and/or state agency staff.

Be prepared for the field and have available the necessary information including field datasheets, town tax maps, list of property owners, photos to help locate properties and drainage ways, etc. A list of suggested equipment for the field is includ- ed in Appendix V. Record the information clearly and legibly on the field datasheets. Have copies of the relevant laws to give to the property owner.

Field work should be conducted by physically capable, trained teams of at least two people for safety and efficiency. One person can talk with the property owner while the other looks for a prob- lem.Two noses and two pairs of eyes can be more effective than one.

Many Maine homes are seasonal. It is generally easier to determine if there is a malfunctioning sep- tic system or other discharge if the house has been occupied for some time (usually weeks or months); therefore, limit the time spent looking at seasonal homes during the winter or early spring, when the septic system has had little or no use for several months.

Always knock on the door immediately upon enter- ing the property, even if it appears that no one is home. Most residents grant permission; immediately leave the property if permission is denied. Property owners who refuse access may be served with an administrative search warrant. Only authorized town or state officials are able to request and be granted search warrants by District Court; see Part IV for more information on legal rights.

  • Never enter a home if an adult is not present.

  • When you meet the occupant, introduce yourself and show proper identification. Briefly explain the purpose of the survey and why you are there. Be polite. The owners may have received a letter (see Appendix III) from the municipality indicating that survey work is being conducted and requesting per- mission to enter their property. It may also be worth explaining the scope of the survey to avoid property owners thinking they are being singled out.

  • Ask the location of the septic system and ask to look around the property for any evidence of a problem. Ask if all wastewater is disposed of in the septic system. Many homes have a separate discharge point for the washing machine, some- times a dry well, roadside ditch, or stream. This can best be determined by looking in the base- ment for more than one wastewater discharge pipe. Do not take the homeowner’s word for the location of the septic system or that it is function- ing properly.Those systems that “have never had a problem” are often the ones that are malfunc- tioning. Note any evidence of a malfunctioning system, including seepage into the building, and back-up of wastewater in toilets/drains that is not caused by the blockage of internal plumbing. Ask the owner if bacteria or nitrates have ever been detected in the home’s well water, as these may indicate a septic leak.

Maine DEP

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