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Lake Herman Notes: Septic Tank Installed Against State and District Rules

Last updated on 2014.11.20

I think I got lied to last night. I don't like that very much.

Last night the Lake Herman Sanitary District met by telephone to discuss various issues around our fair lake. Charlie Stoneback and I, the only two Lake Herman residents willing to occupy two of the three available seats on the board, were joined on the phone by eight other people, which may have set a record as the second-biggest meeting of the district board.

As you can see from our still unofficial minutes, we discussed apparent fluid discharge from a worn-out septic tank and drainfield at the Madison Country Club. Stoneback reports that the country club is aware of the problem but that fixing it is contingent on lining up funds for their $800,000 clubhouse renovation.

We approved spending $19,805 in taxpayer dollars to have Banner Associates of Brookings study the feasibility of a sewer system around Lake Herman. Banner last studied the engineering question in 1999 and pegged the cost of a Lake Herman central sewer at a little over $2 million.

And then there's Dirks Resort, soon to become Timmers Campground. Bev and Terry Timmer came into possession of this land on the southeast shore of Lake Herman last year. They plan to build a commercial campground there. They also own the residence on that property. We established for the record the following points:

  1. The installation of any septic tank in the Lake Herman Sanitary District, whether on new construction or as replacement of an existing tank, requires a permit from the district.
  2. That application must include a drawing of the proposed system and percolation test data for the ground in which that system will be installed.
  3. Any septic system must be installed by a state-certified septic installer.
  4. According to Bev Timmer in last night's meeting, a contractor doing dirt work damaged the existing septic tank at the Dirks Resort residence.
  5. Timmers hired Brandon Sievers to install a new septic system.
  6. Sievers installed a septic tank but no drainfield in November, 2011.
  7. Sievers was not a state-certified septic installer at that time. He is not currently on that list.
  8. No percolation test was conducted on the ground in which that septic tank was installed.
  9. The Timmers sent no permit application to the Lake Herman Sanitary District for that construction.

Toward the end of the meeting, Terry Timmer asked why they had not received any information from the county about the requirements on installing wastewater treatment systems back when they started the process of pursuing their campground project back in January. They didn't know about the sanitary district rules, the Timmers say.

January. Didn't know. Really.

On November 1, 2011, Bev Timmer sent me an e-mail making the following request:

We would like to have lots steaked out and rented by the year. I have checked with the State in Pierre and they said if spots were rented no less than by the month or yearly we do not have to follow campground rules. But I would guess that we have to follow guidelines of the Lake Herman Sanitary District. Can you please email the rules and regulations we need to follow [Bev Timmer, e-mail to Lake Herman Sanitary District, 2011.11.01].

I replied the same day as follows:

I'm pleased you'll be putting Larry's property to good use. Whatever camping/rental use you make of the property, your operation of the property will fall under the guidelines of the Lake Herman Sanitary District as well as the state's guidelines for on-site wastewater treatment.

Lake Herman Sanitary District rules are summarized at the following website:

You can also access the sanitary district permit application and septic tank Q&A on that website.

The state's rules for on-site wastewater systems are found at the following website:

The regulations boil down to the requirement in our Ordinance 1.0202:

"Every residence and building within the territorial limits of the Lake Herman Sanitary District, Lake County, South Dakota, in which human beings reside, are employed or congregate, shall be provided with an approved method of wastewater treatment in a manner which does not cause pollution of ground or surface waters, or does not create a public health problem or odor as required by this Ordinance."

In other words, if you have people living, working, or gathering in buildings on the property, they need a place to poop. That means you need either a septic tank or holding tank designed to handle the amount of wastewater you'd expect users of the land to generate during their stay.

If you have any other questions (permit applications, fees, etc.), let me know. If I can answer them, I will! If the questions are above my head, we work with attorney Jerry Lammers in Madison, and he's very good about making sure we get the rules right for our property owners [Cory Allen Heidelberger, e-mail to Bev Timmer, 2011.11.01].

Maybe I misunderstood Mr. Timmer's complaint at the end of our meeting last night. But January? Didn't know? Hmm... I don't think so.

I look forward to receiving the Timmers' formal permit application for whatever septic system work they plan to do on their property in the Lake Herman Sanitary District. And I'm sure as responsible, law-abiding landowners, the Timmers won't move one more inch of dirt until they have made sure they are complying with all local and state regulations.


  1. Les 2012.10.10

    You broke an important rule Cory, don't over write the story most won't read it. I read little and may be off here, but.
    SD law states repairs can be made by the owner to existing systems. They were already covered at one time in the perc and licensed installer areas.
    The septic tank doesn't perc.
    I'm guessing to old drain field was used which does the prercolation.
    When push comes to shove, SD law will rule over Lake Herman law.

  2. Tim Henderson 2012.10.10

    Part of me says you should include Scott Hipple from DENR.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.10.10

    This was installation of a new septic tank, not repair of an existing tank. Local regs are clear, Les: you need a permit. Sanitary districts have primary responsibility, so I'd wager our rules still apply... those I'd welcome a link to the state law you think would trump our regs.

    The tank was not hooked up to the old drainfield; the intent was to install new, but the project stopped midway.

  4. Les 2012.10.10

    Corey, your story tells of a replacement septic tank but no drain field. That is not necessarily unusual though not usually the case unless the drain field appeared to be doing its job.
    Replacing a tank or a drain field is repair Corey.
    South Dakota law allows the owner to repair without license.
    The repair has to represent the original system design and they can replace the entire system without engineering.
    I see nothing in your link covering repairs and do not believe you would trump the state on repairs.

  5. Michael Black 2012.10.10

    This is a story that should not be posted on your blog. If your board has a problem with the way the septic system was repaired, then your lawyer should be looking into making sure the letter of the law has been followed. A link to the official Lake Herman Sanitary District website with a list of topics would be more acceptable.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.10.10

    Statements on public record, Mike: no problem.

    Les, you may be right, and both I and the landowners would appreciate your getting them off the hook. There are two threads to the story here: one is that we received no paperwork on this installation/repair; the other is that the installation was done by an uncertified installer. Our ordinance and state law make clear that only certified installers can do installation or repair.

    Now I will grant you that SDCL 34A-2-108 speaks of "alteration, repair, construction and installation," which suggests you are correct to distinguish "construction" and "repair." Now can you show me the statute that says "repair" doesn't require a local district permit? Doesn't the district still need an application with schematics so it can verify that the replacement system conforms to the specs required by the condition and use of the property?

  7. Michael Black 2012.10.10

    Corey, you might be able to justify it to yourself, but I still believe that it is inappropriate.

    At what point do you need to get a permit for a simple repair? This is no different than replacing a door or window on your house. From time to time septic systems will need maintenance and repair. We don't want to pollute, but at the same time we don't want to have to get permission from the state, county or local boards every time we fix something that is broken.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.10.10

    Michael, there is nothing inappropriate in talking about items on the public record, discussed in a public meeting.

    There is something inappropriate about saying one does not know the rules when one asked for and received the rules.

    If we analogize to home repairs, I would remind my neighbors that the county requires us to get building permits for repairs as well as construction. You do have to get permission from the county to fix things that are broken... at least big things. Analogies don't govern, but Michael does unintentionally raise an instructive point.

  9. Les 2012.10.10

    I do not know statutes or have a license Corey. I come from a family in that biz since the mid 40's and was told either what to do or how to do. That was not my profession but have shoveled and flowed more than my fair share of poop.
    The only ordinance I know of that at all fits your argument would be in a regulated area such as a city or maybe your district, could be that if the sewer leaves private property, it requires a licensed op to repair or replace outside the property line.
    As to plans or drawings, the entity with concerns asks to look over the job before it is covered.

  10. Michael Black 2012.10.10

    I have a little experience with building permits at the county level. If you are repairing a door or window by replacing it with a similar unit, you probably don't need a building permit. If you are replacing all of your windows and doors with new, then you are probably going to have to fill out a form BEFORE you start. The smart thing to do is to stop by the courthouse and share your intentions. The penalty for ignoring the rules is steep and accumulates every day if the person in charge you have pissed off decides to aggressively pursue enforcement.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.10.10

    Well, the Lake Herman Sanitary District is a regulated area, Les. I'm going to have to do some looking as well, but as I understand it, if a new tank goes in, the district needs to see it. It definitely needs to be installed by a certified installer.

  12. Les 2012.10.10

    Would you please post the exact verbiage from your district to back your claim Corey? This is a repair on private property from my understanding of your post.
    In the city limits in most cities of SD that I'm aware of, the homeowner can repair without license up to the curb or there about. What makes your district stand above the rest of the state?

  13. Les 2012.10.10

    I'm not debating the building permit here Corey. That he may need.

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.10.10

    Don't worry, Les; I'm not debating the building permit, either. I simply note Michael's analogy as a place where we might look to understand construction vs. repair.

    On the need for certification, see Ordinance 1.0308: "No person or firm shall engage in the business of installation or repair of wastewater treatment systems without first obtaining a certificate to conduct such activities from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources."

    On the permit requirement, see Ordinance 1.0302, which states in part, "Before commencing the construction of a wastewater treatment system, the owner or his agent shall first obtain a written permit, issued pursuant to application on the proper form as elsewhere provided for in this Ordinance, signed by the District...."

    We have no central system, so we govern only the private systems. We thus have the duty and authority to inspect all such systems on installation. Can we carry out our duty if we can't inspect a replacement tank?

  15. Les 2012.10.10

    You're in a gray area Corey. Was the owner onsite and involved in the work? If so, he is under the owner rule that denr is not dealing with in its statement. Are you ready to prove the owner was not involved in the actual work?
    The only reason a city has teeth in holding the work open(IMO) until inspection is, it hits their system. This owner hit nothing of your districts and is repairing not constructing as you seem to insist. Your ordinance states nothing on repairs.
    I would change the ordinance to state "a viewing of the work before closing the job" if you want that control.

  16. Les 2012.10.10

    "A viewing of the repairs before closing the job".

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