Saguache County codes dominate working meeting

Photo by Patrick Shea Don McDonald gave the Saguache Board of County Commissioners a code enforcement update during their working meeting on Oct. 11.

SAGUACHE — The Saguache County Commissioners met on Oct. 11 to address code violations and septic requirements, a sensitive subject that attracted representatives from the Lazy KV Estates.

Mae Folsom, the president of the Lazy KV Estates Homeowners Association, brought a crew of volunteers to propose a long-term plan for septic management in not only Saguache County, but perhaps all of Colorado. Commissioners set aside a full hour for the discussion.

Folsom collected recent cease-and-desist letters from the county addressed to the HOA because previous administrators for the Lazy KV Estates failed to update documentation. Rather than go to the proper owners, these code violation letters reached the HOA board. Other letters to specific owners echoed the same demand to come into compliance with county septic codes.

Leading the presentation, Lisa Bodey emphasized code compliance while asking for greater collaboration between property owners, code enforcement, engineers, contractors, and state and county agencies responsible for inspections and approvals.

Bodey also stressed how stressed-out residents don’t respond to letters that sound threatening. As they are worded, the letters seem to call for a completed septic system within six days.

Another volunteer offered that the short deadline is impossible to meet, although county administrators said they would work with property owners who respond to the letters. Bodey noted how suppliers, engineers, and inspectors also complicate calendars.

On top of vendor scheduling delays, the costs of installing traditional septic systems have tripled in the last decade, particularly for property owners in the Lazy KV Estates. Soil tests in the area uncover impermeable clay and other soil conditions that rule out a standard Gravity Flow System (GFS).

Installing a GFS can cost between $10,000 and $15,000. When owners pay about $1,300 for a percolation test and learn that the depth is insufficient for a leach field, their only alternative is a more expensive Pressure Dosed System — $20,000 to $35,000.

Meanwhile, the history of septic solutions means that “grandfathered” systems in the county conflict with updates to state regulations in 2018.

Following guidance from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), water control regulators amended the state’s On-Site Wastewater Treatment System (OWTS) regulations in 2018.

Acting as the Saguache County Board of Health, the Saguache County Board of County Commissioners voted to adopt the amended OWTS Regulation 43 through a resolution passed in 2019.

“We are compassionately looking at the whole community while staying in compliance with Reg 43,” Bodey said.

Initiated through communication with commissioners in early August, the whole-community approach that Bodey presented will require more discussion during commissioner meetings in November and December (assuming they are on the agenda).

Long-term, Bodey proposed creating a grant-funded task force to work through regulations while pursuing middle-ground solutions currently unavailable to property owners.

New technologies like cassette toilets and incinerators may be more cost-effective and require less water for managing greywater and blackwater (sinks and toilets).

Commissioner Tim Lovato asked questions and encouraged more communication with CDPHE and other state agencies.

As Commissioner Tom McCracken noted at the close of discussion, “We’re listening,” adding that support from representatives at the state level would help steer the changes here in Saguache County.

The current cost to install a traditional septic system prevents many cash-strapped owners in the county from addressing their code violations.

Bodey breezed through a string of cost-effective alternatives, but she noted how existing regulations need to be addressed before adopting alternate sanitation.

According to resident Tyler Berry, a small family can install an alternative system for $800 to $1,200. A similar system designed for 15 to 20 people can run around $5,000.

According to Brett Buchanan, a local contractor, only a few organizations in the San Luis Valley can install a complete septic system, and their schedules are already full. Engineering firms are also difficult to find, and many residents cannot afford to meet the requirements.