Environmental Health Departments in Liberty, Bryan, Long and Effingham counties are participating in a survey to locate and identify residential septic tanks and drinking water wells near major bodies of water.
The Coastal Health District is collaborating with scientists from the University of Georgia Marine Extension Service and the Southern Georgia Regional Commission on the project, which will begin in January.
“Local health department officials will be in county neighborhoods locating wells and septic tanks with GPS devices until June 2010,” said Ray Bodrey, marine resource specialist.
Bodrey said the survey will provide a computerized inventory, database and maps of all septic systems and drinking water wells in Georgia’s coastal area.
“It’s a great tool for the health department to use,” he said. “Everything will be computerized so counties will have easy access to this information.”
Liberty, Bryan, Long and Effingham counties are in the first phase of the project, he said. Later, Camden, Chatham, Glynn and McIntosh counties will be included in the database. Once funding is acquired, a final phase of the survey will include Charlton, Brantley and Wayne counties.
“It’s a preventative measure. We know tanks are out there, but we may not know where they are or what types of systems they are,” the resources specialist said. “We’re looking at tanks within 90 feet of major waterways.”
The bodies of water the survey will focus on include the Ogeechee, Altamaha, Savannah and Canoochee rivers, he added.
Bodrey emphasized that the University of Georgia has no regulatory authority over septic tanks or wells that are in disrepair.
“We’re just gathering data,” he said.
However, county health departments will use the data to enforce environmental health regulations.
“It will give us an idea of what is functioning properly,” said Linus Woodard, Liberty County environmental health manager. “The survey will benefit the county to let us know where the septic systems are located near the different streams and rivers.”
Septic systems that have failed or are not working properly can then be brought up to code or removed once they’re located, Woodard said.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to find out what’s in the county,” he said. “I’d say 95-99 percent of septic systems in our county have been permitted and were installed properly.”
Woodard said it’s to be expected that a large number of septic systems would exist in rural areas, like the unincorporated areas of Liberty County that don’t have sewer systems.
“Every now and then, you have a septic system malfunctioning and they (residents) will call us to come out and take a look at it,” he said.
Woodard added the environmental health department will also inspect wells suspected of contamination.
“We’ll try to see the source of the pollution and get it (the well water) chlorinated,” he said.