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> Health EH OWTS (Sewage) Systems: Procedure for Obtaining a Permit

OWTS (Sewage) Systems: Procedure for Obtaining a Permit


  1. Applicant must complete and sign the application for an OWTS Construction Permit. Complete only the section indicated on page 1 and the sketch layout of property on the Site Plan Sheet (page 2). No entries should be made on the remaining pages. If a current survey map is available, then the map should be submitted with the application. Details asked for in the site sketch can be drawn on the survey map and in this case the Site Plan Sheet need not be filled out. An incomplete application will be returned to you; if you need help, please call us.
  2. If the lot is part of an approved subdivision, attach a copy of the approved lot plan. Major changes from the approved plan will require another plan prepared by a Professional Engineer.
  3. Return application to the Tompkins County Health Department with fee. No action will be taken by the Health Department until the fee is paid.
  4. Call the Health Department to arrange for a site inspection and soil tests. We try to make appointments within one week for undeveloped lots or building conversions, and within 48 hours for replacement systems. Prepare the soil test holes as described below.
  5. If possible, applicant should meet the inspector on site. If not possible, mark test hole locations and stake out the four corners of the proposed building location. Also, mark the well location. Indicate lot location by placing sign or marker visible from road to aid the inspector in locating the property.

Instructions for Preparing Soil Test Holes

Call Dig Safely New York, 1-800-962-7962 before you dig, drill, or blast!

A. Deep Hole
  1. An investigation of the depth to the water table, rock and hard pan will require a test hole to a depth of three (3) feet below the lowest part of the subsurface leaching system. This hole must be dug with a backhoe. The hole must be dug in the presence of a Health Department representative. Example: If a tile field is planned at a depth of two (2) feet, a test hole at least five (5) feet deep is required in the area of the installation.
  2. All test holes must be properly protected to prevent accidents and must be refilled after the inspection.
B. Percolation Test Holes
  1. Unless advised otherwise, prepare three (3) holes one (1) foot square, to a depth of 24 inches, 30 feet apart, in a triangle in the area of the proposed absorption trenches. Keep at least 100 feet away from any well area or stream, including those on adjoining lots. The 24-inch deep percolation holes MUST be dug with a hand shovel, NOT a backhoe.
  2. The inspector may require handdug holes of different depths, especially if the lot is in a subdivision.
  3. Scratch the sides and bottom of the test holes to restore any smeared soil surfaces. This improves the test's accuracy.
  4. Remove all loose material from the holes, and presoak the holes the day before the test by filling with water and allowing it to seep away.
  5. During heavy rain or freezing weather, cover each test hole with plastic, plywood, or similar material.
  6. Have containers of water available at the site. A minimum of five (5) gallons of water is needed for each test hole.
  7. These test holes may prove to be unnecessary depending on the soil profile observed in the deep hole. However, it is recommended to prepare these test holes anyway to prevent delays and scheduling conflicts.

Procedure for Obtaining a Certificate of Completion

  1. Construction of the sewage disposal system must be in accord with the approved plan or construction permit. The system must be inspected and approved prior to the use of the system and/or occupancy of the building served.
  2. Arrange for final inspection of the system prior to covering any part of the installation. At least 24 hours notice to the Health Department is required for final inspection appointments. Approved installations will receive a Certificate of Completion by mail.

Additional Information for the Homeowner

Sewage Treatment Systems

If the construction job is done by a contractor, it is to your advantage to insist on a fixed price to the completed system subject to final approval of the system and issuance of a Certificate of Completion by the Health Department.

Typical septic diagram

Typical residential septic system.
A: Two-compartment septic tank; B: Soil absorption field; C: Perforated pipe for effluent disposal; D: Gravel; E: Sand/loam soil; F: Geotextile fabric

Important – Your new sewage treatment system may fail and need replacement unless the septic tank is cleaned every 2 to 4 years (annually if garbage grinders are used), depending upon the amount of solids such as greases, soap scum, toilet wastes, and other solid materials discharged to the tank. If possible, the sludge and scum depth should be checked every year. When the combined depth of sludge and scum equals 1/4 of the total liquid depth, cleaning is necessary. Septic tanks are best cleaned in the spring or summer as they become readjusted more readily in warm weather. Tanks should not be washed or disinfected after cleaning. For additional information, call the Health Department.

A list of persons authorized to pump septic tanks in the County may be obtained from the Health Department. It will be to your advantage to insist on a fixed cost for cleaning or at least to obtain a definite maximum estimate before engaging a septic tank pumper.

For your safety – Never enter a septic tank or any tank. Do not enter any excavation or deep hole.

Normal use of household detergents and chemicals will not be harmful to your treatment system. Avoid use of so-called septic tank cleaners or conditioners as they have not been shown to be beneficial and they may result in actual harm to the system.

Water Supply Systems

If your water supply source is a well, it is recommended that it be a drilled type. Other water sources such as springs, dug wells and surface water such as streams should be used as a last resort. Information on the design of these water systems is available from the Health Department upon request. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) requires well driller registration.

Drinking water should be free from harmful organisms and chemicals. Frequent inspection of the water system and periodic quality testing, especially for Coliform Bacteria, is recommended by the Health Department. The Health Department has a list of NewYork State Certified Labs.

A well disinfection procedure is also available from the Health Department.

Rev. 10/11/2005