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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently asked questions about Water Environment Services (WES)

Annexation | Billing | Biosolids | Buffers | Directions & Hours | Drinking Water Providers | Grading | Fees | Permits & Regulations | Sanitary Sewer Service | Septic Systems | Source Control & Industrial Pretreatment | Surface Water Management | Water Quality & Wells

Annexation

What options do I have to annex to a service district for sewer service?

Billing

Why are my water and sewer services separate?

Where can I pay my fees?

How can I pay my fees? By credit card, check, direct debit or online?

Where can I drop off a payment?

How often do I receive my sewer bill?

How do I stop or stop sewer and surface water services when I move?

Why do I have to pay a "rain tax"?  

What does the System Development Charge (SDC) fund?

What does the monthly fee fund?

How can I finance my System Development or Collection Sewer Charges?

How much does it cost to construct a sewer lateral from the main line in the street to my house?

How do we come up with the amount that we charge for sewer?

What is the penalty if I pay late?

Can I make payment arrangements?  

Why am I responsible for the bill if I'm not living there? What happens if I don't pay?

Why don't you just discontinue service?

Biosolids

Where do biosolids come from?

Why use biosolids?

How and where are biosolids applied?

Buffers

Are there setback rules and regulations if you own property near a creek, river, stream or wetland?

Drinking Water Providers

Who is my water company?

Grading 

Grading Permit responsibilities have changed from WES to the Building Services section at the Transportation and Development Department

Fees 

Where can I find a fee schedule?

Permits & Regulations

When do I have to pay my fees for a sanitary sewer connection?

When development plans are submitted at the Department of Transportation and Development (DTD) permit counter, are they also routed to WES?

How do I get design and inspection on private developments? Does WES provide these services?

When I receive land use approval by the County, does that guarantee final plan approval by WES?

When I receive WES approval, does that also meet the requirements of the Corps of Engineers or Division of State Lands?

Sanitary Sewer Service

What phone number should I call in an emergency?

When do I have to pay my fees for a sanitary sewer connection?

What does SDC mean?

Why does it cost so much for Sanitary SDC?

Where is the treatment plant for my sewage?

How much does it cost to construct a sewer lateral from the main line in the street to my house?

What is a "Collection Sewer Charge" (otherwise known as a "Late Comer's Fee"). Why do I have to pay it?

Where is the nearest public recreational vehicle waste dump site?

Who do I call to report someone pouring chemicals down the sewer drain?

Where is the treated water discharged? Is it safe to be in the water near there?

How did the flood affect the treatment plants in 1996?

Septic Systems

Who should I call to request a septic system inspection and what information do I need to provide?

How complete does the septic system need to be in order to call for inspection?

Can I call in for a partial septic system inspection?

Can the inspector call me to let me know when the septic system inspection will be performed?

What is your septic system re-inspection fee policy?

I was issued a correction notice for not properly water testing the tank. What is expected for the water test?

What should I do with the "pink card" that came with my permit?

Is there anything else I need to have ready for the septic system inspection?

What number should I call if I have additional questions?

Septic Records

How far back do your septic records go?

How can I get a copy of my septic records?

Septic Approvals and Application Process

How much room does a septic system take?

What is the minimum lot size required for when a septic system is used?

How do I get a septic approval?

How long does it take to get a septic approval?

Can my septic installer/general contractor/real estate broker apply for a soils test or a septic permit for me?

What should be shown on the plot plan?

How long does a septic approval last?

Which perk hole was approved for my system and how did you know it was any good?

The septic system approval is right where I want to put my house, can I move it?

The septic approval area is up the hill and a long way from my home site approval, now what can I do?

I have a home site approval; does this mean I have septic approval?

Septic Review and Building Permits

How many bathrooms can I have?

Do I need to redo my septic system if I add a bathroom or other room?

Do I need to redo my system if I add a bedroom(s)?

What if I can’t locate the system in the field?

What if my increase in flow is more than 300 gallons per day or 50 percent of system capacity?

Septic Permits and Construction

Must I have a licensed septic installer work on my system?

After the septic system has been inspected, can I cover the building sewer too?

I have an approved site evaluation for a septic system; can I install the system now?

How long is a septic permit good?

If we sell the property before the septic system is built or finished, can we transfer the permit to the new owner?

Septic Repair/Maintenance

Do I need a permit to fix a clogged line?

Do I need a permit to replace my septic tank?

How long does a septic system last?

What should I do if my septic system is failing?

How often do I need to pump my septic tank?

Can I have a garbage disposal?

It costs so much to clean the tank, do septic tank additives work?

Septic Problem Sites, Miscellaneous or Under Approval?

Can I make an appointment to meet the soil scientist at my property?

If I get a denial letter, can I build a sand filter? Can I get my money back?

Can I use one of the new alternatives to sand filter?

Who can answer technical questions?

Source Control & Industrial Pretreatment

Is grease a problem in sewers?

What is a grease trap and how does it work?

How do I clean my grease trap?

Can you recommend a maintenance schedule?

Do I have a grease trap?

Do I need a grease trap?

Is the grease trap I have adequate?

What if I don’t install a grease trap?

Who determines if I need a grease trap or interceptor?

How can I be sure I am in compliance with the rules?

What will be the criteria for grease trap inspection?

What permit is required to discharge my process wastewater?

Surface Water Management

What phone number should I call in an emergency?

What is Surface Water Management (SWM)?

How are SWM fees used?

Does everyone pay a surface water management charge?

How is the surface water management fee calculated?  

I'm not connected to a stormwater system. Why should I pay?

What purpose do wetlands serve? Aren't they just a breeding ground for mosquitoes?

What does SDC mean?

What purpose do stormwater facilities serve? Aren’t they just breeding grounds for mosquitoes?

Water Quality & Wells

Where do I go to get drinking water tested?

What options do I have to annex to a service district for sewer service?
WES administers three Service Districts:

Clackamas County Service District No. 1 (CCSD#1) provides sanitary sewer and surface water services to the North Clackamas Service Area (NCSA) in unincorporated urban Clackamas County, north of the Clackamas River and east of Oatfield Road. Residents of the City of Happy Valley are retail customers of the District. By agreement, territory that is annexed to the City of Happy Valley must do so before being annexed to CCSD#1 and receiving services. Other areas in CCSD#1 that receive sanitary sewer services only are Hoodland, Boring and Fischer’s Forest Park. Territory is occasionally annexed to the NCSA and Hoodland.

The Surface Water Management Agency of Clackamas County (SWMACC) provides surface water management services in the unincorporated area of Clackamas County in the Tualatin River watershed, including Lake Oswego. The SWMACC boundaries are fixed by the County boundary, City boundaries and the extent of the Tualatin drainage area. No territory is annexed to SWMACC. However, from time to time, territory is removed from SWMACC. As the surrounding cities of Lake Oswego, Tualatin and West Linn annex territory in SWMACC, that area is automatically removed from SWMACC by State statute.

The Tri-City Service District (TCSD) primarily provides regional collection and wholesale sanitary sewer treatment services. The TCSD boundaries coincide with those of the partner cities of Gladstone, Oregon City and West Linn. Property owners must first annex to one of the member cities, then to TCSD. Only those parcels in one or another of the cities can receive sanitary sewer service. Subsequent to annexation to a city, an annexation action is initiated to annex the same parcel(s) to the TCSD. WES is attempting to restore concurrent annexations to the TCSD with annexation to one of the included cities. top

Why are my water and sewer services separate?
You are billed by Water Environment Services (WES) for sewer, surface water, and where applicable, on-site maintenance services. Your drinking water services are provided by water districts which overlap our service areas, including Clackamas River, Mt. Scott, Oak Lodge, Damascus, Boring, or the Salmon River Valley Water District. If you live within the limits of one of our city partners, West Linn, Gladstone, Milwaukie, or Oregon City you would receive one bill for water, surface water, and sewer from that city. top

Where can I pay my fees?
Fees can be paid in person or mailed to Water Environment Services at 150 Beavercreek Rd. Suite 430, Oregon City, OR 97045. You can also pay online at http://www.clackamas.us/wes top

How can I pay my fees? By credit card, check, direct debit or online?
You may pay all fees by check or credit card. WES takes credit card payments by mail and over the phone. For regularly monthly service fees there is a direct debit program available by calling 503-742-4567 or access the WES Financial Services web site to download the direct debit application form. You can also pay online at http://www.clackamas.us/wes top

Where can I drop off a payment?
There is a locked drop off box located at the west entrance of the Development Services Building, 150 Beavercreek Rd. in Oregon City. top

How often do I receive my sewer bill?
Water Environment Services direct bills its single family, commercial, industrial and multi-family customers every month. top

How do I start or stop sewer and surface water services when I move?
Call (503) 742-4567 to open and close accounts when you move, or do it online by clicking the Start or Stop Service icon from our home page www.clackamas.us/wes. If you are a new customer, ask for our welcome packet, which includes information about your charges and new services. top

Why do I have to pay a "rain tax"?
In reality, the fee for surface water management does more than just address rain water. As a follow-up measure to the 1972 Clean Water Act, the United States Government (EPA) mandated that all local governments establish a program for the reduction of non-point source pollution and create a permanent source of funding for that program.

In 1992, Clackamas County created the Surface Water Management Agency of Clackamas County to address surface water quality issues in the Tualatin River Watershed.

In 1993, surface water management was added to the charter of Clackamas County Service District No. 1 for the North Clackamas Service Area.

Surface water management works to improve the quality of runoff water from all commercial, industrial, and residential development before it enters creeks and streams. top

What does the System Development Charge (SDC) fund??
SDCs fund additional wastewater treatment capacity and downstream over-sizing of pipes larger than 8 inches in diameter.  These large pipes collect sewage from smaller pipes and convey it to the wastewater treatment plant.  The SDC is a one-time fee paid when a customer connects to the public sewer system. A single-family residence is charged 1 SDC for 1 equivalent dwelling unit (EDU).  See the CCSD#1 Fee Table for the current SDC. top

What does the monthly fee fund?
The monthly sanitary sewer fee funds ongoing operation and maintenance of the public sewer system.  The current monthly fee for sanitary sewer service is $40.00 per equivalent dwelling unit (a single-family home = 1 equivalent dwelling unit). top

How can I finance my System Development or Collection Sewer Charges?
There is an installment payment program for the payment of Collection Sewer Charges and System Development Charges. The combined cost must be at least twice the System Development Charge for a single family residence. Applicants must demonstrate equity in the property and supply title insurance equal to the amount of the mortgage. However, there is no guarantee that the installment payment program is less expensive than loans from commercial sources. top

How much does it cost to construct a sewer lateral from the main line in the street to my house?
The cost of building sewer laterals can vary widely. On the low end of the scale, a simple shallow gravity connection to a new house could be as little as $500. Longer, deeper connections from existing houses to the public sewer can be as much as $3,000 to $5,000, including decommissioning a septic tank if necessary.

Because of the wide variation in cost, we always recommend that owners get three bids for connecting their house to the sewer system. top

How do we come up with the amount that we charge for sewer?
The monthly sanitary sewer fee is based on the cost of operating and maintaining the collection and treatment facilities. Maintenance costs include the repair and replacement of equipment over time. Maintenance costs also include a capital component for the complete replacement of obsolete or worn out equipment. Some maintenance costs are incurred to meet permit requirements for discharge into the receiving streams. top

What is the penalty if I pay late?
Statements are mailed on the first of each month. All bills have a due date of the 20th of the month in which they are mailed. Account balances over 30 days past due are assessed a penalty of 9% per annum. Once a year delinquent balances may be transferred to owner’s property taxes for collection under ORS 454.225. These delinquent accounts are certified to the tax assessor for attachment to the property tax statement. There is a $50.00 fee attached to each certified account. The fee covers the cost of preparing the certification list and the discounts taken on the tax statement. top

Can I make payment arrangements?
WES will always accept partial payments on any account. However, lengthy payment plans are not allowed to substitute for the certification of delinquent accounts. top

Why am I responsible for the bill if I'm not living there? What happens if I don't pay?
You are responsible for the bill if you are the property owner. Property owners may wish to incorporate the sewer bill with the lease agreement or receive deposits to cover a potential delinquent sewer balance.

Once a year delinquent balances may be transferred to owner’s property taxes for collection under ORS 454.225. These delinquent accounts are certified to the tax assessor for attachment to the property tax statement. There is a $50.00 fee attached to each certified account. The fee covers the cost of preparing the certification list and the discounts taken on the tax statement. top

Why don't you just discontinue service?
There is no way to just shut off the sanitary sewer or surface water service. Individual building sewer pipes do not have shutoff valves. The surface water continues to run from impervious surfaces regardless of any need to discontinue the service. Even if there were a valve to close off the sanitary sewer service, doing so would create a health hazard. top

Where do biosolids come from?
The biosolids produced by Clackamas County’s wastewater service districts originate at the four treatment plants administered by Water Environment Services (WES). The Kellogg Creek Treatment Plant serves much of the North Clackamas area, and is located on the Willamette River in Milwaukie. The Tri-City Treatment Plant serves Oregon City, Gladstone, and West Linn, from its location just north of the I-205/Hwy 213 interchange. The Hoodland Treatment Plant in Welches serves the Hoodland Corridor area near Mount Hood, and the Boring Wastewater Treatment Facility serves the community of Boring. top

Why use biosolids?
As our population grows, resource conservation has become essential. The biosolids program is the very essence of the principles of “reduce, reuse, and recycle”.

Reclamation of usable by-products from the wastewater treatment process saves money and resources by reducing dependence on petroleum-based fertilizers. Resource recycling through biosolids land application puts nutrients back into the soil, instead of creating more solid waste to go into the landfills. top

How and where are biosolids applied?
Water Environment Services (WES) has a fleet of biosolids tanker trucks. Highly skilled drivers transport biosolids from the treatment facilities to area farmlands.

The State of Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) must approve the fields chosen for biosolids application. DEQ applies strict criteria established by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Currently, biosolids are applied on hay, pasture, and Christmas tree farmlands. top

Are there setback rules and regulations if you own property near a creek, river, stream or wetland?
Yes. If you’re considering a development project or changing the landscaping on land with a riparian zone, it’s important to know and understand that there are local, state and federal rules and regulations in place requiring undisturbed buffer zones adjacent to sensitive areas. These changes may also require permits and approvals from government agencies. Please call (503) 742-4594 and a WES’ Specialist will assist you in analyzing what permits, if necessary, are necessary for your type of project. top

Who is my water company?
In general, if you live in a city, either the city provides the water service or they can tell you the name of your drinking water provider. Those residing in the unincorporated area of the county can call Water Environment Services at 503-742-4567. We'll try to help. top

Grading
Grading Permit responsibilities have changed from WES to the Building Services section at the Transportation and Development Department. top

When do I have to pay my fees for a sanitary sewer connection?
The fees are due prior to approval of a building permit. Since we work together with the Clackamas County Building Services section and the City of Happy Valley, approval of the building permit also constitutes approval of the sewer permit.

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When development plans are submitted at the Department of Transportation and Development (DTD) permit counter, are they also routed to WES?
No. WES is a separate department. A separate submittal must be made to WES. This would be equivalent to submitting plans to the water purveyors and the fire district. top

How do I get design and inspection on private developments? Does WES provide these services?
Developers are responsible for hiring their own private civil engineering firm. WES does only plan review. Design, inspection, and construction management are the responsibility of the private civil engineer. top

When I receive land use approval by the County, does that guarantee final plan approval by WES?
No. Land use approval and approval by WES are two separate actions. The County applies the requirements of the Zoning and Development Ordinance while WES uses the Rules and Regulations of the Service Districts. These ordinances address similar, but nonetheless different aspects of development. Land use approval is contingent upon meeting the requirements of several agencies. There is no guarantee that those requirements can be met for any specific development application. top

When I receive WES approval, does that also meet the requirements of the Corps of Engineers or Division of State Lands?
No. Water Environment Services (WES) applies the Rules and Regulations of Clackamas County Service District No. 1 and the Surface Water Management Agency of Clackamas County only. The Corps of Engineers and the Division of State Lands administer separate regulations. top

What phone number should I call in an emergency?
If you have a concern about a sewage spill, flooding, or pollution of any stream or ground water you should call 503-742-4567 Monday – Thursday, 7:30 am to 5:30 pm. For calls after hours that are non-life threatening call 503-655-8211.

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When do I have to pay my fees for a sanitary sewer connection?
The fees are due prior to approval of a building permit. Since we work together with the Clackamas County Building Services section and the City of Happy Valley, approval of the building permit also constitutes approval of the sewer permit. top

What does SDC mean?
SDC stands for System Development Charge. The sanitary SDC fee pays for downstream oversizing of the collection system and the construction of wastewater treatment capacity. The surface water SDC pays for oversizing stormwater conveyance pipe systems and the construction of regional storm water quality facilities. top

Why does it cost so much for Sanitary SDC?
The sanitary SDC consists primarily of the capital cost of operations. There are some monies used to make modifications and expand the treatment plants to meet the expected load due to growth. In the modern regulatory environment, and in search of cost efficiencies, the technology employed in treatment plant construction is very complex. Sort of like the modern day computer controlled car compared to the simple cars of the 50's, 60's, and 70's. More sophistication means better process control and less pollution. top

Where is the treatment plant for my sewage?
The cities of Oregon City and West Linn are entirely served by the Tri-City Wastewater Treatment Plant in Oregon City. Gladstone is primarily served by the Tri City Plant, but some sewage flows north to the Oak Lodge WTP and a small portion actually flows to the Kellogg WTP in Milwaukie.

Sewage from Johnson City, Happy Valley and Milwaukie all flows to the Kellogg WTP. Sewage from the unincorporated area of Clackamas and Sunnyside flows primarily to the Kellogg WTP. A recent project has enabled Clackamas County Service District No. 1 to divert as much as 2 million gallons a day to the Tri-City WTP. Water Environment Services (WES) also operates small sewage treatment plants in Boring, Hoodland, and Fischer's Forest Park.

Some wastewater flows to the City of Portland in both the Happy Valley Area and the Johnson Creek Area.
Clean Water Services (www.cleanwaterservices.org) serves some of the unincorporated area in the far northwest corner of Clackamas County. Both the Clean Water Services and the City of Portland Tryon Creek WTP in Lake Oswego serve the City of Lake Oswego.
The cities of Molalla, Sandy and Canby operate and maintain their own wastewater treatment facilities. top

How much does it cost to construct a sewer lateral from the main line in the street to my house?
The cost of building sewer laterals can vary widely. On the low end of the scale, a simple shallow gravity connection to a new house could be as little as $500. Longer, deeper connections from existing houses to the public sewer can be as much as $3,000 to $5,000, including decommissioning a septic tank if necessary.

Because of the wide variation in cost, we always recommend that owners get three bids for connecting their house to the sewer system. top

What is a "Collection Sewer Charge" (otherwise known as a "Late Comer's Fee"). Why do I have to pay it?
Each property owner is required to pay their proportionate share of the cost of constructing the collection sewer system. For new subdivisions, the developer constructs the collection system, and then transfers it to the District for operation and maintenance. Some property owners participate in Assessment Districts for the purpose of paying for the construction of collector sewers.

A Collection Sewer Charge is levied when property has never participated in the cost of construction of a collector sewer. This situation occurs as a result of collector sewers being constructed from capital funds of the District without property owner participation. Another source of collector sewer charges is the partitioning of property which has already been assessed for the collector sewer, but the partition makes a larger portion of the property benefited by the collector sewer construction. top

Where is the nearest public recreational vehicle waste dump site? Is the Kellogg Creek or Tri City Wastewater Treatment Plant a recreational vehicle waste dump site?
There is an RV dumpsite in Oregon City at Clackamette Park. The park is located west of McLoughlin Boulevard at the confluence of the Clackamas and Willamette rivers. Neither the Kellogg Creek nor the Tri City Treatment Plant accepts recreational vehicle waste. There is a dumpsite available to the public at Hoodland in the Mt. Hood RV Village. There is a fee if you are not a guest. top

Who do I call to report someone pouring chemicals down the sewer drain?
Call Industrial Pretreatment at 503-557-2833. It is not appropriate to pour or dump hazardous materials into the sanitary sewer at any time. top

Where is the treated water discharged? Is it safe to be in the water near there?
Treated water is discharged from the Tri-City and Kellogg Creek Wastewater Treatment Plants into the Willamette River. The Hoodland WTP discharges into the Sandy River. The Boring WTP discharges into a branch of Deep Creek. Yes, it is safe to be in the water near there. The effluent stream from the plant is mixed with, or diffused, into the river water. In most cases, the effluent stream from a wastewater plant is cleaner than the receiving waters. top

How did the flood affect the treatment plants in 1996?
None of the treatment facilities were inundated by flood waters. However, flood waters did briefly surround the individual elements of each plant. At the Kellogg Creek WTP there was some damage to the ultraviolet disinfection system. The Tri-City WTP sustained damage to the administration building and the water quality laboratory. Both plants were on line and operational as soon as the flood waters receded.

Who should I call to request a septic system inspection and what information do I need to provide?
Call the Inspection Request Line at 503-742-4720 to request an inspection. The automated system will guide you through the request procedure and will ask for your six-digit septic permit number. Eastern portion inspected on Monday and Wednesday. Western inspected on Tuesday and Thursday. Friday is a wildcard day where only emergency inspections are done, wherever they occur. top

When can I call in for a septic system inspection?
For all systems except sand filters and capping fills, please call for inspection only when the installation is complete and all that is left to do is backfill.

For sand filters, the inspection schedule that accompanies the approved plans should be followed.

For capping fills, the first inspection is for all but the cap; the second is for the cap. top

How complete does the septic system need to be in order to call for inspection?
For standard systems, the tank is to be in the ground and water tested, the pump (if applicable) and alarm are ready for operation, float settings set properly (pre-checked), pressure line or effluent sewer installed, trenches dug, drain media with filter fabric in place or equalizer chambers installed, boxes and header piping installed, and (if applicable) the groundwater interceptor trench dug with rock, pipe, and filter fabric in place.

For systems with pumps, the float/pump/alarm test will be performed on the first inspection for all systems (except sand filters). All components must be prechecked and ready for test.

For sand filters, the inspection schedule should be followed with all components pre-checked, ready for test, and the water level high enough so that the alarm float is horizontal. top

Can I call in for a partial septic system inspection?
We are not able to accommodate requests for partial inspections or requests for AM or PM inspections. By calling in an inspection request, you acknowledge that the system is ready for inspection at 8:00AM on the day of the call. Please do not call in for inspection if the installation is incomplete. If, upon our site visit, it is determined that the system is not ready for inspection, then the permit may be subject to a reinspection fee. top

Can the inspector call me to let me know when the septic system inspection will be performed?
Our staff plans their routes as efficiently as possible given the day's activities, but they cannot predict what situations they may encounter in the field on each inspection; some may go smoothly while others may require more time. top

What is your septic system re-inspection fee policy?
Permits are subject to reinspection fees for incomplete installations (i.e. not ready for inspection) and when the corrections from a previous inspection have not been made and a subsequent inspection is required. top

I was issued a correction notice for not properly water testing the tank. What is expected for the water test?
The expectation is that the tank inlet and outlet be plugged, and the tank filled with water one inch up into the riser. There needs to be a clearly visible mark at the water level, along with the time, date, and your initials. If the water level drops less than one inch in twenty-four hours and the rest of the system is complete, you are ready to call for inspection. If the water level drops more than one inch in twenty-four hours, seal all leaks and perform the test again. When the water level drops less than one inch in twenty-four hours and the rest of the system is complete you are ready to call in for inspection. Please be aware that failure to properly water test the septic tank will require a reinspection. top

What should I do with the "pink card" that came with my permit?
The "pink card" is a visual aid to help the inspector locate the site; it is not the permit. This card must be posted where the access road to the site (such as a driveway) meets the public road. The idea is to provide an easy way for us to find you. Posting the address next to the road, where practical, is helpful as well. top

Is there anything else I need to have ready for the septic system inspection?One of the items that we verify is the setback from property lines to the septic system. The property corners need to be clearly marked and the property line easily identifiable in order for us to confirm that the system meets the required setbacks. top

What number should I call if I have additional questions?
For additional questions please call the Soils Information Desk at 503-742-4740. top

How far back do your septic records go?
We have some subdivision records that predate the mid-1970’s which is when the Soils Section started to run the septic system program. Our records are complete for septic systems built after that. Please note that many building permits were issued based on pre-existing systems, so there may be newer homes for which the septic records are non-existent. top

How can I get a copy of my septic records?
You may obtain copies of your septic records by completing and submitting a Records Research Request form, available on-line at http://www.clackamas.us/wes/forms.html#septic. Or one may be faxed or mailed to you upon request. We do not accept telephone requests for records. Records Research Requests are completed by WES staff each week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. A self-help area which allows you to access your records is available anytime our building is open. Please note there is processing fees for records requests, if records are found. top

How much room does a septic system take?
You should plan on an area of approximately 100 by 100 ft (or 10,000 sq ft.) for an average 450 ft standard drainfield and drainfield repair area for a one to four bedroom house. This can be reduced with some alternative systems to about 3,500 square feet. This entire area must meet all setbacks (see setback form at: http://www.clackamas.us/wes/forms.html#septic). top

What is the minimum lot size required for when a septic system is used?
As a rule of thumb, we consider a one acre lot with public water, or 2 acres with a well, as the minimum lot size required for a septic system. Smaller lots will probably require the system to be staked in the field to ensure it can fit with all other existing or proposed development prior to issuing a septic permit, or even a building permit. top

How do I get a septic approval?
A septic site evaluation application and instructions may be accessed and downloaded online or may be requested to be faxed or mailed to you. It is important to follow all instructions carefully to ensure the application is completed in full. We cannot accept incomplete applications. A complete application includes:

  • An application signed by the property owner or contract purchaser,
  • A plot plan (see below for tips on drawing one up)
  • A minimum of 2 and a maximum of 6 test holes in the area you would propose to replace your septic drainfield. Note, you provide these, not the County. (Only one test hole is required for a System Repair Evaluation (SRE) though two are recommended.)
  • The application fee (no fee is required for SRE)
  • To qualify for an SRE, the drainfield must be in failure, as represented by partially treated sewage affluent on the surface of the ground or by direct discharge into waters of the State of Oregon. This latter condition could be represented by flooded drainfield lines and distribution boxes below the level of the groundwater table.

Owners should ensure that all plumbing fixtures and lines are clean and not leaking when they suspect their septic system is malfunctioning.  SREs will require the existing to have certain components exposed for inspection by WES staff. top

How long does it take to get a septic approval?
The time varies with the season. During the busy summer building season, you should allow for several weeks. The slower winter months allow for shorter processing time. There is no advantage to testing your site during winter. During the summer we look for permanent markings in the soil which accurately indicate the depth to the winter time water table.

Note: System Repair Evaluations get our highest priority, but results may be held up if there is no evidence of failure (see last item in the above question). If you simply want to upgrade your system, we applaud you. But you must apply for a site evaluation if one has not been done previously. Our applications, instruction sheets, fee schedules, plot plan instructions, and handouts on test hole construction tips are available at the Soils Counter in the 2nd floor public lobby of the Development Services Building located at 150 Beavercreek Road in Oregon City. They are also available on-line at www.clackamas.us/wes. Look for the Septic System tab. top

Can my septic installer/general contractor/real estate broker apply for a soils test or a septic permit for me?
Only the property owner/contract buyer can sign the application for a septic permit, unless the agent has been authorized in writing. Look for the Notice Authorizing Agent form on-line. Anyone can deliver a signed package. top

What should be shown on the plot plan?
If the site is a large acreage, focus on the area (to be) developed. See the example, on our website noted above. Setbacks by septic components to geographic features or development required by code are shown on this example, and must be taken into consideration when you are deciding where to put the replacement septic components. Show the following:

  • All wells within 200 feet of the property
  • A north arrow, the scale (the preferred scale is approximately 1 inch equals 30 ft)
  • The location from two perpendicular lot lines of a minimum of two test holes(only one test hole is required for a repair evaluation) Note: the test holes must
    be in the area you propose to build a (replacement) drainfield,
  • The location of the existing drainfield failure, if it is for a repair evaluation,
  • All development features, if there are any,
  • Any geographic feature that requires setback (creeks, ditches, escarpments, etc.)
  • A path flagged to the test holes, if they are in a dense vegetation area. top

How long does a septic approval last?
Septic approvals are good indefinitely, or until site conditions change in a way that would prevent the possibility of installing a code system such as:

  • A well is installed in the approval area.
  • The approval area is graded to such an extent that drainfield function could be expected to be impaired.
  • A change in river course could reduce lot size such that insufficient acreage would remain. top

Which perk hole was approved for my system and how did you know it was any good?
Septic approvals are seldom approvals of the entire lot, but rather a site specific location for the septic drainfield. We look at the soil profile (color, texture, continuity of layers) as well as a surrounding area of sufficient size and slope to properly site a drainfield. In addition, site stability and setbacks are considered when we approve a location. However, we do not do actual percolation tests. We found in the 1960’s that they didn’t appear to be a valid way to predict drainfield longevity for western Oregon, with its extensive winter wet season. top

The septic system approval is right where I want to put my house, can I move it?
Relocating a septic approval to a new location on the property will require a new "site evaluation" unless the new area has been looked at and has been approved separately. top

The septic approval area is up the hill and a long way from my home site approval; now what can I do?
The easiest solution is to place the septic tank near the home and pump the sewage effluent to the drainfield location. You may retest if desired. top

I have a home site approval; does this mean I have septic approval?
No. The home site approval does not include the site evaluation process needed for septic system approval. To obtain a septic system approval, you must complete and submit an application for a "site evaluation" and prepare test holes in the desired area. top

How many bathrooms can I have?
Septic systems are sized based on projected daily sewage flows. The projected daily flow for single family dwellings is based on the number of bedrooms in a home, not the number of bathrooms. The number of bedrooms is usually the limiting factor for how many people occupy a home which influences actual sewage flow volumes. This information will be requested at the site evaluation and permit stages. top

Do I need to redo my septic system if I add a bathroom or other room?
Usually a bathroom addition (or any non-bedroom addition) will not cause any review of the septic system. However, some of the conditions that must be met include:

  • The room is for personal use (not for a home business, for example, with a number of employees)
  • It is an internal remodel or, if an external addition, the new foundations are not within10 ft of an existing drainfield or dedicated replacement area.

If public septic records do not exist, you will be required to submit an Existing System Report prepared by a state-licensed septic installer. There is a $10.00 fee charged at the time of report submittal. top

Do I need to redo my system if I add a bedroom(s)?
This is a complicated questions and the answer is often: it depends. We will go over several scenarios below. If yours is not covered, please call the front desk at 503-742-4740, to get a determination about what, if anything is required.
The code does NOT require the system to be upgraded if the system is in use and not currently failing, and the number of bedrooms doesn’t increase the flow by more than 300 gallons (4 bedrooms) or 50% beyond system capacity, whichever is less, provided:

  • There is still room for an entire replacement system meeting all setbacks, should the future need arise,
  • The proposed addition doesn’t adversely affect the setbacks to the current septic system (5 ft to the tank, solid pipes and, sand filter, if applicable, or 10 ft to the drainfield).

Note, systems can often be altered to meet setbacks, if desired, but this does require an alteration permit.
The code DOES require that the Soils Section issue an Authorization Notice if there is:

  • An increase in flow up to the above limits,
  • Any change in use (adding a daycare to a home, for example), or
  • If a building is replaced with a like building (residential or commercial).
  • A temporary second dwelling is proposed to be added to care for an ailing family member. top

Authorization Notices are issued by the Soils section upon review of a Maintenance Inspection Report prepared by a state-certified Maintenance Provider hired by the owner.  Important details of the Authorization Notice Process and the Maintenance Inspection Report are provided on handouts at the Soils Desk or online at www.clackamas.us/wes on the Septic Systems tab. An application and a $215.00 fee must accompany submittal of a Maintenance Inspection Report.  Please contact the Soils staff in person to ask specific questions about your site.

Soils staff are available at the Soils Desk Monday-Friday, 8AM to 3PM, or you may ask for a staff member to call you at (503) 742-4740. top

What about adding an agricultural building?
Pole barns and other non-plumbed accessory structures can be reviewed and approved over-the-counter without fee if good public septic records are available and if setbacks are met without intruding into the repair drainfield area.  Sites without public septic records or sites with questionable setbacks may be required to submit an Existing System Report of the septic system prepared by a state-licensed septic installer. There is a $10.00 fee for report submittal.
Owners should stop by the Soils Desk and speak in person with a soils scientist regarding the specifics of their application. top

What if I can’t locate the system in the field?
You may want to seek the services of a professional septic installer. Sometimes septic tank pumpers are able to do this work, as they are experts at finding “lost” tanks. We have lists of both types of professionals available on our website: http://www.clackamas.us/wes/septic.html or you may refer to the yellow pages. top

What if my increase in flow is more than 300 gallons per day or 50 percent of system capacity?
In this case, the septic system must be brought to code or replaced. A full code dedicated replacement area is required as well. You must apply for a Site Evaluation, expose the system (unless you just want to replace the entire system), and provide two test holes. A new construction permit will also be required. top

Must I have a licensed septic installer work on my system?
Only a licensed septic installer—or a property owner--can install any part of a septic system. top

After the septic system has been inspected, can I cover the building sewer too?
The pipe between the building and the tank (the building sewer) must be inspected by a plumbing inspector, which requires a separate, plumbing permit. Questions regarding this should be directed to 503-742-4777. top

I have an approved site evaluation for a septic system; can I install the system now?
You must obtain the installation permit before you or your contractor can begin the installation. top

How long is a septic permit good?
This permit is only valid for one year, though it can be renewed for a fee, prior to its expiration. This is different from other permits issued by the Building Code Division which extend as long as an inspection is called every 6 months. top

If we sell the property before the septic system is built or finished, can we transfer the permit to the new owner?
Yes, they will have to submit a new application for a permit transfer along with a permit transfer fee. top

Do I need a permit to fix a clogged line?
Routine maintenance, such as pumping tanks or rootering out the lines, does NOT require a septic permit. Replacement of components internal to the septic tank with equivalent components (eg. Pumps, baffles, floats, etc.) is also considered maintenance. top

Do I need a permit to replace my septic tank?
Yes. Only routine tank maintenance does not. See above questions. top

How long does a septic system last?
Most drainfields with average maintenance last approximately twenty to thirty years. The average life expectancy of a steel tank is seven years, though some last much longer. Modern concrete tanks can be expected to last a lifetime. top

What should I do if my septic system is failing?
You can maintain your tank (get it pumped) or drainfield (have roots removed) without any review by the county. Replacing drainfield components (boxes, pipes, drain media) requires a permit. You may apply for a septic permit to replace a tank without a site evaluation.

If your drainfield is failing, you may not work on it until you have received an approval letter for a System Repair Evaluation (SRE). There is no charge for this evaluation, and there is a (reduced) charge for the repair permit which enables a soil scientist to review the workmanship and materials of the septic repair to ensure that they meet codes. This evaluation requires our highest priority. But while you are waiting, consider having the tank outlet capped and the contents pumped and taken to a central sewage treatment plant. Cover any affected area with inexpensive garden lime to stabilize the smell and discourage vermin and vectors. Cover any excavation with plywood and berm dirt around the edges. Apply for a System Repair Evaluation. See instructions above for Site Evaluation application and plot plans. top

How often do I need to pump my septic tank?
Assume that you will need to pump it every three to five years, unless you have your system inspected, including a check of the sludge and scum (settled and floating solids) accumulation in the tank. If solids accumulate in your tank and are shipped to your drainfield, you can shorten the drainfield longevity. As a result it is not recommended that you put off pumping your tank when it need maintenance. We recommend that gravity systems be inspected every three years and pressure distribution systems annually.  For additional details, ask for our Septic System Maintenance brochure when you visit our public counter. top

Can I have a garbage disposal?
It is better to compost kitchen waste. Heavy use of a garbage disposal unit will add large volumes of organic matter to the septic tank which will accumulate in the septic tank. More frequent pumping of the tank will be necessary to prevent carryover damage to the drainfield. top

It costs so much to clean the tank, do septic tank additives work?
A national organization called Small Flows has commissioned several university studies of septic tank additives and the results have shown that additives have no value. Some of these products actually interfered with the proper settling and removal of solids in the tank or led to permanent damage to the drainfield. The use of septic tank additives is not recommended. top

Can I make an appointment to meet the soil scientist at my property?
We make an effort to accommodate requests for meetings for Site Evaluations, inspections and SREs, but it is not always possible because of work load limitations.  For Site Evaluations, the site should be cleared for access, a path flagged to the test holes and the flagged path shown on the plot plan, dangerous dogs or livestock—such as buffalo or bulls—must be penned up, and a gate key or gate code must be provided. It is OK to request notice on the morning of the site evaluation or inspection so you can pen up animals or leave the gate open. If we cannot reach you, however, the site visit may be delayed. Also, if we see that the test holes were poorly placed in the landscape, we may ask to review more test holes in another location for no additional charge. Septic installers or consultants may be very helpful, too, not only digging the holes, but picking an appropriate location for them. An onsite meeting may be necessary when you must be on site during inspections to provide access to a circuit or septic tank control panel inside an otherwise unattended house. top

If I get a denial letter, can I build a sand filter? Can I get my money back?
Before a denial letter is sent, a sand filter and Alternative Treatment Technology System are considered and ruled out. Many of our denials are actually “conditional” requiring additional actions/information prior to final determination if the site can be approved or denied. Be sure to read the entire letter. You usually are given up to three months to complete this work or a new application and fees will be required to further pursue. Once we have visited a site fees are non-refundable. Prior to a site visit, applications may be voluntarily withdrawn, in which case we refund 80 percent of the County portion of the fee. top

Can I use one of the new alternatives to sand filter?
Siting criteria are the same for sand filter as for the new alternatives. If you have received a “denial,” the new alternatives will not enable us to issue an approval. Such areas are limited by a permanent groundwater table and are more environmentally sensitive. These shallow groundwater reserves are used as drinking water by local people so greater vertical separation between the drainfield trench bottom and effluent water table is required as a precaution against septic effluent being “recycled” into someone’s drinking water. top

Who can answer technical questions?
You can come to our second floor Soils desk at the Development Services Building 150 Beavercreek Rd. Monday through Friday, from 8AM to 3PM to speak to our staff. Or contact our office at 503-742-4740, and leave a message on our voicemail and we will get back to you as soon as we are able. Please be patient as our technical staff work in the field and may return calls on the next business day. Office meetings can be scheduled ahead of time to meet with a staff member. top

Is grease a problem in sewers?
In the sewage collection and treatment business, the answer is an emphatic YES! Grease is singled out for special attention because of its poor solubility in water and its tendency to separate from the liquid solution.

Large amounts of oil and grease in the wastewater cause trouble in the collection system pipes and the wastewater treatment plant. It decreases pipe capacity and, therefore, requires that piping systems be cleaned more often and/or some piping to be replaced sooner than otherwise expected.

Grease in a warm liquid may not appear harmful. But, as the liquid cools, the grease or fat congeals and causes nauseous mats on the surface of settling tanks, digesters, and the interior of pipes and other surfaces which may cause a shutdown of wastewater treatment units.

Problems caused by wastes from restaurants and other grease-producing establishments have served as the basis for ordinances and regulations governing the discharge of grease materials to the sanitary sewer system. This type of waste has forced the requirement of the installation of preliminary treatment facilities, commonly known as grease traps or interceptors. top

What is a grease trap and how does it work?
A trap is a small reservoir built into the wastewater piping a short distance from the grease producing area. Baffles in the reservoir retain the wastewater long enough for the grease to congeal and rise to the surface. The grease can then be removed and disposed properly. top

How do I clean my grease trap?
Grease interceptor (GI) and trap maintenance performed by liquid waste haulers consists of removing the entire volume, (liquids and solids), from the GI; and, properly disposing of the material in accordance with all Federal, State, and/or local laws. When performed properly and frequently, grease interceptor and trap maintenance can greatly reduce the discharge of fats, oil, and grease (FOG) into the sewer system.

The required maintenance frequency for grease interceptors and traps depends greatly on the amount of FOG a facility generates and the best management practices (BMPs) the establishment implements to reduce FOG. In many cases, an establishment that implements BMPs will realize financial benefit through a reduction in their required maintenance.

WARNING! Do not use hot water, acids, caustics, solvents, or emulsifying agents when cleaning grease traps and interceptors. top

Can you recommend a maintenance schedule?
All grease interceptors should be cleaned at least twice each year. Some establishments will find it necessary to clean their traps more often than twice per month. If the establishment is having to clean it too often, the owner should consider installing a large trap or interceptor. top

Do I have a grease trap?
If the establishment is uncertain whether it has a grease trap, the owner should contact the industrial pretreatment coordinator for the community served. top

Do I need a grease trap?
If the establishment uses large amounts oil and grease, and these are washed to the sanitary sewer system, the establishment should have a grease trap or interceptor. top

Is the grease trap I have adequate?
The size is largely determined by the maintenance schedule. If the trap or interceptor has to be cleaned more often than the owner thinks it should, then chances are the size needs to be increased. Typically, a drive-in restaurant will require between a 70-lb and a 100-lb interceptor, depending on the food being prepared.

One of the most important things to remember is that grease traps must be maintained properly. The establishment should work out a specific cleaning schedule that is right for the establishment. All grease traps need to have the grease cleaned out periodically and no one likes to do the job. It is a dirty job. Running extremely hot water down the drain only moves the problem down stream. It does not go away. Catch the grease at the source! This is the most economical means to reduce all costs. top

What if I don’t install a grease trap?
If the establishment uses grease and oil in food preparation, it will eventually encounter a maintenance problem with a plugged building sewer line. The blockage can create a sewer backup situation and ultimately a potential health problem in the establishment. Someone will have to pay for removing the blockage. If the problem is in the building sewer line, then the establishment has direct responsibility for paying for the maintenance. If the blockage or restriction is in the public sewer main and it can be proven that the establishment is the cause of the blockage, then the establishment may have to pay for the public sewer to be maintained. top

Who determines if I need a grease trap or interceptor?
The initial decision rests with the establishment, but the rules of the Health Department, your municipal sanitary sewer agency, and the Uniform Plumbing Code will assist the establishment in making the correct decision. Oregon State Plumbing Code states that a grease interceptor may be required by the administrative authority. All administrative authorities prohibit the discharge of materials that can solidify and create blockages in the wastewater collection system or treatment plants. The Health Department makes periodic inspections to see that no health problems exist due to improperly maintained grease interceptors. These rules will be enforced if a problem exists. top

How can I be sure I am in compliance with the rules?
The establishment should contact its local jurisdiction. The establishment will be asked to purchase a permit for the grease trap. This will enable the proper jurisdiction to assist the establishment in cleaning schedules and advise them of a problem showing up in the wastewater collection system. A grease interceptor permit is required regardless of whether the establishment has an existing trap or is installing a new one. top

What will be the criteria for grease trap inspection?
All food service establishments suspected of causing problems to the collection system or treatment facilities will be inspected. The grease trap will be inspected using the following criteria:

Percent of Trap Filled Trap Condition
25 Good
25 – 50 Fair
50 Poor

If the trap is in FAIR condition, the establishment should be advised to keep an eye on the maintenance schedule. The cleaning frequency may need to be increased. If the trap is in POOR condition, the establishment should be issued a compliance order to have it cleaned immediately. The establishment should then be required to contact the issuing authority within 30 days to verify that the grease interceptor has been properly cleaned. top

What permit is required to discharge my process wastewater?
It depends on the type of business you are conducting and the volume and pollutant characteristics of the discharge. Contact the Industrial Pretreatment Office at 503-557-2833 or 503-557-2834. top

What phone number should I call in an emergency?
If you have a concern about a sewage spill, flooding, or pollution of any stream or ground water you should call 503-742-4567 Monday - Thursday between 7:30 am and 5:30 pm. For calls after hours that are non-life threatening call 503-655-8211. top

What is Surface Water Management (SWM)?
The SWM Program was implemented in 1993 to address surface water, or “non-point source”, pollution as required by the Clean Water Act. Contaminated surface water runoff has been identified as a major source of pollution in our waterways. Surface water, sometimes called "storm water", runs off areas including roads and sidewalks, roofs, and even lawns and fields. Urban runoff is often unable to soak into the ground because of impervious surfaces such as pavement and buildings. On its way to a natural body of water, surface water picks up pollutants such as oil and grease, soil erosion, yard debris, litter, animal droppings, and industrial and home chemicals. Surface water management programs aim to reduce the amount of contaminants that reach our waterways by controlling erosion from construction sites, reducing impacts of new development, providing adequate drainage, identifying pollutant sources and taking action to correct and prevent them, and through public education. top

How are SWM fees used?
SWM fees are used to fund

  1. water quality monitoring;
  2. investigation of water quality, erosion, and drainage issues;
  3. water quality and drainage improvement projects;
  4. customer service response; and
  5. public education and awareness. top

Does everyone pay a surface water management charge?
Yes, everyone with impervious (nonabsorbent) surfaces pays a SWM fee, including homeowners, churches, schools, governments and businesses. Only unimproved properties and public streets are not charged. Public streets are designed to be part of the stormwater system and direct flow through the storm system. top

How is the surface water management fee calculated?
The SWM charge reflects the amount of impervious surface on each site, which is a measure of increased runoff into the storm drainage system.

The monthly surface water management fee is based on the Equivalent Service Unit (ESU). One ESU equals 2,500 square feet of impervious surface. The current SWM rate is $4 per month per ESU in the SWMACC District and $6 per month per ESU in CCSD#1. Single family residences are charged for 2500 square feet of impervious service area or 1 ESU (shown as "1.00 unit" on your billing) per month, based on this average measurement. Non-single family properties, including businesses, schools, governments and industrial areas, pay based on their measured impervious area. For example, a business with 10,000 square feet of impervious surface (4 ESUs) would be charged $16.00 per month ($4.00 X 10,000 sq. ft. ÷ 2,500 sq. ft. = $16.00). Through this approach, properties that contribute more to the need for surface water management pay a greater proportion of the program costs.

Residential customers in CCSD#1 are billed for both surface water management and sanitary sewer services every 2 months. Residential customers in SWMACC are billed for surface water management service every 6 months. top

I'm not connected to a stormwater system. Why should I pay?
You may not be directly connected to a stormwater system, but you are provided service through the Surface Water Management Program. The services may be in the form of water quality improvements, systems that protect the area roadways you use, or protection of your home or business from the impact of development upstream. The program is based on the premise that we all live "downstream" and we all need to be part of the funding solution that supports the program. The impervious surface approach is the fair and logical means of allocating these costs. Other questions? Please call the Surface Water Management Division at 503-742-4567. top

What purpose do wetlands serve? Aren't they just a breeding ground for mosquitoes?
Wetlands serve many functions simultaneously. Not all wetlands are under water all year round. Many species of wildlife are dependent on the existence of wetlands for their survival. Wetlands also serve to improve water quality by filtering out pollutants. On the subject of mosquitoes, where they are found, there are usually some mosquito eating predators in the area helping control the population. Read some facts about wetlands and the West Nile Virus
Perhaps the most evident function of a wetland is for flood control. Wetlands often act as water overflow and storage areas in times of heavy rainfall. top

What does SDC mean?
SDC stands for System Development Charge. The sanitary SDC fee pays for downstream oversizing of the collection system and the construction of wastewater treatment capacity. The surface water SDC pays for oversizing stormwater conveyance pipe systems and the construction of regional storm water quality facilities. top

What purpose do stormwater facilities serve? Aren’t they just breeding grounds for mosquitoes?
Stormwater Facilities and West Nile Fact Sheet top

Where do I go to get drinking water tested?
You can call Clackamas County Public Health at 503-655-8384. They make visual inspections of wells, test drinking water, and septic systems. For those wanting to test drinking water from a large public water source, Public Health will give them a list of State approved laboratories.

You can get more information from the Oregon Department of Human Service Public Health Drinking Water webiste top

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