Septic and Well Design & State Regulations
Updated: Sep 25, 2019
Soil & Water is a Public Health Matter
Have you ever wondered why we need permits for our well and septic systems in Virginia? The answer goes back many years, to an era when times were simpler, population densities in the countryside were less, modern inventions were yet to be discovered, and less was known about medicine and the environment. Sometimes improperly disposed of waste and/or unsafe drinking water supplies lead to illness for a family or an entire community, in some cases. Virginia's rural water and sewer will always be an important area of concern, which is why multiple Environmental Health programs exist to regulate rural development.
Why is a Permit needed for Septic and Well Systems?
As the reason for the permitting process is not only to design a viable septic or well system, but to ensure that public health is kept at the forefront of our development goals, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has provided rules and regulations about how septic and well systems are designed and permitted in order to keep the public safe from pathogens, waste byproducts, and manmade contamination, and to help maintain a healthy environment.
The VDH mandated requirements have been in place for the better part of a century and the evidence of their effectiveness is easy to see. One very important code requires a specific setback distance from proposed septic systems to existing and proposed drinking water wells. Much like the State building codes, a notable benefit of these State codes is that they also help ensure that septic systems designed in the Commonwealth will function properly.
Some counties within the greater Charlottesville area of Central Virginia have unique ordinances related to this facet of rural development, which are more stringent than the VDH regulations. For instance, Albemarle County requires a greater setback distance from drainfields to surface water bodies; 100 feet, instead of the State requirement of 50 feet.
As the site evaluation and well siting process is driven by State codes and local ordinances, it is very important for your soil consultant to have a working knowledge of sewage disposal system regulations. A background in only soil science or in State regulations alone would be an incomplete knowledge base for your soil consultant. Shenandoah Soil Consulting, LLC staffs a well-educated former Health Department employee, also a DPOR-licensed Master Alternative Onsite Soil Evaluator (AOSE), who provides excellent service, while ensuring that public health matters remain a priority.
Private Well Design
As a State requirement, drinking water wells are now designed, not only to provide a source of fresh drinking water to rural residents of Virginia, but also to prevent contamination by water-born pathogens and manmade contaminants, such as petroleum products and certain pesticides. Part of the well design process deals with finding a suitable well site, and ensuring that a well will be located far enough from pollution sources to mitigate the potential hazards they pose. Another aspect of well design centers on the amount of casing and grout (used as a seal) that is installed around the upper portion of a well (near the surface), which is a crucial step in preventing pathogens from entering the well via shallow surface water intrusion. Above, a drilled well is uncovered for pit-less adapter installation, enabling the connection of a water line at a frost-free depth.