Septic and Onsite Wastewater Systems

 

What is an onsite wastewater system?

Onsite wastewater systems are multi-stage systems that collect, treat, and disperse wastewater generated by a home or business. The wastewater is treated and discharged to the soils rather than collected and transported to a wastewater treatment plant. The typical onsite wastewater system consists of a septic tank and some kind of leachfield to disperse the wastewater into the ground.

See How a Septic System Works

Residential New Construction

As of July 1, 2012, if you are in the process of constructing a new home in Erie County that needs to have an onsite wastewater treatment system (OWTS), then you must hire a licensed design professional (i.e. a licensed professional engineer, a registered architect, or a licensed land surveyor with an exemption certificate (Section 7208n of New York State Education Law)) to design the appropriate system to serve your residence.  The design professional will create an engineer’s report and plans that must be submitted to the Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) along with an Application for a Construction Permit for an Onsite Wastewater Treatment System for Residential or Commercial Lots Prepared by a Design Professional and a $300 fee.  See this list of licensed engineers (a complete list can be found in the phone book). 

Once the application, fee, engineer’s report and plans are received, the project will be reviewed by Erie County Department of Health staff to determine if the plan meets Health Department regulations.  Once it is determined that the plans meet Health Department regulations, the Department will issue a construction permit.  See design guidelines and requirements

If your home is required to have a well installed in order to supply potable water it must be installed by a NYS Department of Environmental Conservation registered well driller.  The well driller must supply you with a well log detailing the installation of the well.  A copy of the well log must be submitted to the Erie County Department of Health.  Once the well has been installed and properly disinfected (see Drinking Water Information) then you must collect a water sample and submit the sample to a New York State ELAP certified laboratory for analysis.  See this list of certified laboratories.  The sample must be analyzed for total coliform/E.Coli and a copy of the sample result submitted to the Erie County Department of Health.  Completed works approval for the onsite wastewater treatment system will not be issued by this Department until the Well Completion Report and a negative bacteriological result is received.  

If the result of your water sample is positive for total coliform or E.coli then it is recommended that you re-disinfect your well and contact the Erie County Department of Health to resample.  If the second sample is also positive for total coliform or E.coli then you must have an appropriate disinfection system installed on your water system (See well disinfection procedures).  The Erie County Department of Health will inspect the installation of a disinfection system and collect another sample to have analyzed for bacteria.  This must be completed prior to a Completed Works Approval being issued for the Onsite Wastewater Treatment System.

Residential Repair/Replacement

If your current onsite wastewater treatment system is in need of repair or if your system is in failure and in need of replacement, you must submit an application and $300 fee to the ECDOH.  Once we receive your application and fee, we will make an assessment as to the degree of failure and the required repairs or replacement.  If your system must be replaced the ECDOH will issue specifications for a new septic system.

If your property includes an existing or proposed private well the location must be included with the application.  The sanitarian will complete an inspection of your well during inspection of the construction of the septic system for your property.  The inspection includes determining if your well and onsite wastewater treatment system meet the proper separation distances, construction requirements, and a water sample to ensure that the well meets bacteriological requirements.  The property survey that must be submitted with your application must include the existing or proposed well location.  Prior to this inspection, it is recommended that you disinfect your well (See well disinfection procedures). 

Onsite Wastewater Treatment System Installation

You are responsible for hiring a contractor to construct your onsite wastewater treatment system per the Erie County Department of Health approved specifications designed by the design professional you hired.  During the construction of your septic system, your design professional will complete one or more inspections to ensure that the system being installed meets the specifications issued.  Based on the inspection(s), the engineer will issue a construction compliance stating that the system was installed per plans.  The construction certification must be submitted to the ECDOH prior to a Completed Works Approval being issued.

A Completed Works Approval will be issued after your design professional submits a construction compliance form to this Department stating the system was installed properly.  If your home is served by a well, then a copy of the well log from a licensed well driller, a bacteria sample result, and documentation of a disinfection system installation (if needed)  must also be submitted.

Operation and Maintenance of your Septic System

Now that your new onsite wastewater treatment system has been installed here are some things you can do to protect your system and have it function properly.

  • Keep a record of the location of your system. If you do not have this information, please contact us at 961-6800 and we will check our records and if available, provide you with a copy of your system location.
  • Have your septic tank pumped out every three to five years. 
  • Keep a record of all maintenance or repairs that are completed on your system.
  • Don’t park or drive heavy equipment over the area of your septic system.
  • Don’t build structures, such as decks, patios, pools, over any of your system components.
  • Your toilet is not a trash bin. Do not dispose of items such as paper towels, personal hygiene products, baby wipes, diapers, cat litter, or tissues in your toilet.
  • Use toilet paper that specifically states that it is safe for use with septic systems.
  • Do not flush or use strong chemicals. Chemicals and cleaners, such as bleach or chemical drain cleaners, kill the bacteria in your septic tank. The bacteria in your septic tank are vital for breaking down solid matter and in the functionality of your system. If the solid matter is not broken down and digested it could flow through your septic tank into the remainder of your system causing a blockage which could lead to system failure. 
  • Conserve water. Check your home for plumbing leaks. A running toilet wastes 1 gallon of water every 30 seconds. A leaking toilet wastes 200 gallons of water per day.

For additional information regarding the operation and maintenance of your onsite wastewater treatment system:

Difficult Sites for Repair or Replacement

If your property contains multiple constraints for construction, (i.e. creeks, ravines, extreme slope, lack of drainage, etc.), you may be required to hire a design professional to design an onsite wastewater treatment system for your lot.  In this case, once your engineer has designed a septic system for your property, you must submit the plans to the ECDOH with an Application for a Construction Permit for an Onsite Wastewater Treatment System for Residential or Commercial Lots Prepared by a Design Professional and a $300 fee for review and approval.  If an application and fee were previously submitted to this Department to issue the design for your property, an additional application and fee will not be required.  See this list of design professionals (a complete list can be found in the phone book).

You are responsible for hiring a contractor to construct your onsite wastewater treatment system per the Erie County Department of Health approved specifications designed by the design professional you hired.  During the construction of your septic system, your design professional will complete one or more inspections to ensure that the system being installed meets the specifications issued.  Based on the inspection(s), the engineer will issue a construction compliance stating that the system was installed per plans.  The construction certification must be submitted to the ECDOH prior to a Completed Works Approval being issued.

A Completed Works Approval will be issued after your design professional submits a construction compliance form to this Department stating the system was installed properly.  If your home is served by a well, then a copy of the well log from a licensed well driller, a bacteria sample result, and documentation of a disinfection system installation (if needed)  must also be submitted.

Commercial

All commercial facilities must have a design professional prepare plans for the onsite wastewater treatment system required for the property.  See design guidelines and requirements.  

The design plans must be submitted to the ECDOH with the required Application for a Construction Permit for an Onsite Wastewater Treatment System for Residential or Commercial Lots Prepared by a Design Professional and $300 fee for review and approval.  Your design professional is required to complete one or more inspections of the onsite wastewater treatment system as it is being constructed.  Based on the inspection(s), the design professional will issue a construction compliance stating that the system was installed per plans.  The construction compliance must be submitted to the ECDOH prior to a Completed Works Approval being issued.

Septic Smart for Lake Erie

The Lake Erie Watershed Protection Alliance (LEWPA) received a grant from the NY State Pollution Prevention Institute to provide educational resources to residents of Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, and Erie counties on the proper maintenance of septic systems to protect our local waterways by keeping septic systems in good working order. 

Find trainings and other resources at Septic Smart for Lake Erie

FAQs

How do I find out the location and age of my septic system?
  • The ECDOH keeps records indicating the location and age of many private sewage disposal systems.  The homeowner of the property may email sewage@erie.gov or call (716)961-6800 to obtain a copy  of the record if one is available.
My basement has flooded with sewer water.  What should I do?
  • You should contact the appropriate sewer district that covers the municipality where you live.
  • The Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) becomes involved only when there is an imminent public health threat. In the absence of a public health threat, the ECDOH has no authority or oversight over operational sewer systems.
I have a septic system and would like to add an additional bedroom on my house.  Do I need to do anything to my septic system?
  • Adding an additional bedroom will not significantly increase the waste flows for your home. Therefore, the ECDOH would not require installation of a new system or modifications to your current system at this time. However, please be aware that if you decide to sell your home the ECDOH will only certify the home as having the original number of bedrooms since that is the current sizing of your septic system. If you plan to sell your home using the additional bedroom then a new septic system may need to be installed. For more information, please call the ECDOH at 716-961-6800.

Division of Environmental Health
ECDOH Building
503 Kensington Avenue
Buffalo, NY 14214 
Map of Campus
Phone: 716-961-6800 (For Emergencies after regular business hours: 716-961-7898)
Fax: 716-961-6880

Changed
09/16/2022 - 11:17 am