New septic tank rules could cost home builders

By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer

New state septic tanks standards may increase the cost of building a home in rural areas.

That is the unsettling reality of stricter septic tank regulations, according to one septic tank installer.

“Every ranch house, farm house, (and) anytime you see a house in the country, it’s got a septic tank or a cesspool,” said Jim May, who owns and operates Bigger and Better Septic Tanks in Clovis.

May said regulations that require high-tech, nitrogen reducing systems will have the biggest financial impact. A traditional septic tank and drain field will cost a homebuilder about $3,000 today, May said. The high-tech systems, along with increases in drain-field sizes, could cost homebuilders between $6,000 and $10,000 to install, he said.

“It just costs more money,” he said of the regulations, which will go into effect in early June.

Part of the reason for the new regulations is to prevent having septic tanks concentrated in one area near water sources, state officials said.

“The research shows that the single largest source of contaminated ground water comes from septic systems,” said Gary Beatty, specialist with the environment department. “That’s the reason that the environment department feels this is important. It is a public health issue.”

Nearly 1,200 water supply wells and 355 stream miles in New Mexico have been contaminated by on-site septic systems, according to the state. State officials are hoping the new regulations will reduce concentrations of nitrates going into ground water, thereby reducing contaminated water sources, officials say.

The new regulations also include stricter certification guidelines of septic tank installers and inspectors.

“It’s going to mandate having knowledgeable people, with a certain minimal level of education, doing these things,” he said. “Right now we don’t have that.”’

He added New Mexico is behind other states such as Texas that already have stricter septic tank guidelines.

The new regulations only apply to undeveloped lots without access to public sewer systems, officials said, with a few exceptions and sunset provisions. Development on lots smaller than 3/4 of an acre will require the advanced septic systems, according to a press release from the state environment department.

Once the new regulations go into effect, all undeveloped lots will have to comply immediately with the new regulations if the lot is less than 3/4 of an acre and the depth to groundwater is less than 100 feet, the press release said.
However, Beatty said conventional systems will be permitted on lots from 1/2 to 3/4 of an acre if it is more than 600 feet to groundwater.