top of page

Water Systems

Books And Resources On Cottage Water Systems



Country  and Cottage Water Systems.
Written by Max Burns. Published by Cottage Life Books, 2011.
Updated from the 1999 "Cottage Water Systems".

Learn how to choose the right pump for your system, get rid of grey water, prevent pipes from freezing in winter, and much more.

You can purchase a copy of this book at any bookstore, or you can purchase it from the Cottage Life store at:


Waste Water Information

Treating Waste Water
1. Living by Water - Septic Systems website
This is a great site, which explains a lot of issues related to cottage septic systems including facts (questions and answers), and photos.
2. Composting Toilets Systems (book)
Written by David Del Porto. Published by Chelsea Green Publishing Co., Vermont.
Review: This book offers a very thorough, complete, carefully researched book on composting toilet systems. Over 50 systems are described, including manufactured units such as the SunMar, Biolet, Phoenix, Clivus, and Carousel. There are also numerous ideas and construction details for owner-built systems such as how to install the various systems, and most importantly, how to maintain them. The advantages and disadvantages of each system are listed. Many composting toilets promoted and built (both manufactured and home-built) 20 years ago had serious flaws, so the concept has a dubious reputation with people who encountered smelly and malfunctioning units in those days. Designers and manufacturers learned from previous mistakes, however, and the technology has greatly improved. Read all about it here; it’s essential if you’re interested in the subject.
3. Grey Water Systems (book)
Written by Art Ludwig. Published by Oasis Design Press, Santa Barbara, CA, 1995.
Review:  Art Ludwig is the inventor of Oasis soap, specially formulated to provide nutrients to plants when water from a washing machine is directed to the garden. Here he has assembled a practical booklet on gray water. Why to utilize it, when not to use it, and details and drawings on 18 different types of gray water systems, from the simplest (dishpan dump) to the most complex (automated systems). Rerouting gray water from a septic tank can increase the longevity of the system, and the water — if properly utilized — can be a source of nourishment for thirsty plants. This a great resource to look through if you are interested in saving and utilizing water, and there are clear and useful drawings that can be put to practical use. Building Professional’s Supplement is an additional 48-page “work-in-progress” supplement by Ludwig intended for building professionals and regulators. 
4. Outhouses (book)
Written by Ronald S. Barlow. Windmill Publishing Co., El Cajon, CA, 1989.
Review:  There are a surprising number of books out there on toilets, privies, outhouses, and the like. Most of them are either weird or insubstantial. This one, however, is a solid, funny, and well-illustrated volume on the subject of American outhouses. There are over 100 photos, old steel engravings, humorous postcards, and construction diagrams that can be used to build different types of outhouses.
5. The Septic Owners Manual (book)
Written by Lloyd Kahn, Blair Allen, & Julie Jones, 2004 Shelter Publications, 1989.
Review:  This book is for those whose homes or cottages have septic systems. It describes a basic gravity-flow septic system, including the tank and the drain field.

  • It will tell you a bit about soil and the process of how micro-organisms purify water-borne pathogens.

  • You will learn what you, and all the other members of your household, can do daily (dishes, toilet, washing machine) to promote healthy functioning of a septic system.

  • We will describe common-sense maintenance, periodic tank inspections, and tank pumping when necessary.

  • There is a chapter on what to do if things go wrong, and information on simple graywater systems and on composting toilets.

  • Alternatives to the typical gravity-fed septic system are described, including mounds, sand-filters, pressure-dosed drain fields, and wetlands.

  • And for the small town facing the likelihood of a town-wide septic system upgrade, we provide advice on basic organization, dealing with engineers, and selecting the best option for wastewater disposal'.

Untreated Water Safety – Near North Laboratories (North Bay, Ontario)


If you do not have a certified water filtration system, and your water is taken directly from the French River or Lake Nipissing without being treated, then you should practise the following:

  1. Do not drink the water

  2. Do not use the water to make beverages

  3. Do not use the water to make ice cubes

  4. Do not use the water to wash your vegetables

  5. Do not use the water to brush your teeth (even to rinse)

Many cottagers have traditionally obtained drinking water from the spring at Campbell’s Bay. The water was tested and found to have high bacterial counts. This is definitely not recommended as a source for drinking water and should be treated as any other untreated source.

Foot Valve Location
If you have a water system that draws from the lake or river, then the foot valve should ideally be 30-40 feet deep and not touching the bottom. Drawing water from a shallow bay is not recommended because the water is more likely to be contaminated. Water at a depth of 30-40 feet is considered to be a region of low activity. All ground-source water should be treated regardless of depth or assumed purity.

Water Treatment
The four methods to treat water include:

  1. Chlorination
    Not suitable for most cottagers because of chemicals, cost, complexity.

  2. Ultra-violet sterilization
    Requires electrical source
    Requires 1 micron absolute filter (most come with 5 micron)
    Filter takes care of chemicals and UV takes care of bacteria

  3. Ceramic Filter  
    Pressure loss but very good for small water systems

  4. Iodine Activation Resin
    Not discussed much;  mainly for marine application but suitable for cottages


Over the years, many cottagers have used bleach to sterilize their water. Add 1.25 ml (¼ teaspoon) per 4.5 litres (or 1 gallon). Fasten the lid and let sit for 15 minutes. The water and container will both be sterilized.

Next, take the top off and let it stand for 30 minutes. Bleach, which is an unstable compound will reduce itself back to salt and bleed off sodium as it degenerates. In the end, all you will have left is water. The key is to let it stand open for at least a half an hour.

Types of Water Treatment

The most suitable types of water treatment for individual property owners are summarized in the "Water Systems chart" below. Most health agencies recommend a multi-barrier approach that includes both a filtration mechanism and a disinfection mechanism (e.g. chlorine, boiling, UV).

Check with the product manufacturer or dealer regarding the particular model you wish to purchase to ensure that it will give you the type of water treatment you need. You will need to weigh many factors such as the cost of the system, amount of treatment provided, convenience, maintenance requirements and potential risks to health of not selecting a particular option.


Septic Re-inspections

The following is from the FOCA web site:
New Septic Re-inspection Regulations

Effective January 1, 2011, the Building Code (Ontario Regulation 350/06) will be amended by Ontario Regulation 315/10 to establish and govern mandatory on-site sewage system maintenance inspection programs in certain areas, and also to govern discretionary on-site sewage system maintenance inspection programs.  Regions included in the mandatory programs will largely be dictated by the vulnerable areas and intake protection zones as defined in the Clean Water Act (2006).  Other properties to be included in a mandatory program are those within the Lake Simcoe watershed, as part of the implementation of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan. 

FOCA notes that, unfortunately, mandatory inspections for the vast majority of near-shore septic systems are still not required. 

Discretionary on-site sewage system maintenance inspection programs are also dictated by the new regulation, to be undertaken at the discretion of the local “principal authority” (identified as the municipality, health unit and/or conservation authority).   Unlike the mandatory programs, details for the discretionary programs, such as the frequency of inspections are not prescribed in the regulation, and the principal authorities will have the flexibility to determine these aspects of the program themselves. 

Funding for inspection programs remains the responsibility of the principal authority administering the program, however, enforcement bodies have the option of charging fees in order to recover the costs associated with maintenance inspections.  Click herefor further details. 
Source: FOCA
Posted: 10/9/2010

Septic Systems

The purpose of a septic system is to effectively accept and treat liquid wastes from your cottage, and to prevent biological and nutrient contaminants from polluting water supplies and water bodies. Most of this treatment happens in the soil below the absorption field. The physical and chemical properties of the soils combine with microscopic organisms to decompose or prevent movement of contaminants.
In soil not saturated with water, biological contaminants (bacteria and viruses) are usually absorbed and rendered inactive within a few feet of the absorption field. Some nutrients, on the other hand, can travel much greater distances, depending on the type of soil, the amount of concentration of waste, and the age of the system. Loam and clay soils, for example, have a greater long-term ability to absorb nutrients and prevent them from moving through the soil than do sand and muck soils. In their journey, nutrients or biological contaminants that encounter soil saturated with water can move much greater distances, in some instances, as much as several hundred feet.
Common Questions about Septic Systems
The following 12 commonly heard questions were submitted to the North Bay – Mattawa Conservation Authority (NBMCA) and their answers are given below.
1. How do I go about getting a new septic system installed?
NBMCA: The installation of a new sewage disposal system can be conducted by a licensed septic system installer or by the property owner.
2. What are the steps involved in putting in a new septic system? (From day one, to final completion?)
NBMCA: The steps involved in the Sewage System Permit process for a septic system are:
· Complete and submit a Sewage System Permit Application with the appropriate fee.
· Prior to a Sewage System Permit being issued a site evaluation is required. A minimum of two 1.5 m test holes (or until you hit clay or bedrock) is required to be dug prior to the inspection.

There are three mandatory inspections required for each Sewage System Permit.
The 1st (Initial Inspection) site inspection confirms the soil type and location of the water table on the property and it also verifies that the proposed installation is in the most suitable location. It is the property owners’/installers’ responsibility to provide transportation to water access properties for all three inspections.

·The Sewage System Permit is then issued provided all information is complete on the application and the proposed location for the installation is suitable.
· The installation of the septic system may be conducted as per the permit approval. Do not backfill any of the components of the sewage disposal system prior to the 2nd inspection.
· When the approval has been granted for the installation of the septic, it may then be backfilled.
· The 3rd inspection is conducted once the system is backfilled, top-soiled and seeded/sodded.
3. Do you have a list of certified installers?
NBMCA: A list of local licensed installers is available at our office.
4. Can I do some of the work myself?
NBMCA: As mentioned above, the property owner or a licensed installer may complete installation of a sewage disposal system.

UFRCA: The UFRCA is aware of one association member on the Upper French River who worked with the NBMCA, and installed their septic system themselves at their cottage. The cottager contracted the delivery of the raw materials (sand, gravel, tank etc.) and did all the manual labour. The NBMCA was part of the entire process and approved it in stages along the way.
5. Do you allow holding tanks, and if not, why not? (Dokis currently pumps out many septic tanks on the French River.)
NBMCA: Holding tanks are only permitted to upgrade properties presently serviced by a holding tank (class 5); or for properties with existing dwellings that do not have room to accommodate a septic tank and bed (Class 4/4F). The acceptable installation of a holding tank is outlined in section of the Ontario Building Code.
6. Under what circumstances will you come and do a septic inspection on my property if I have never called you?
NBMCA: An inspection of your property will be conducted without your request, if our office has received a complaint regarding the sewage disposal on the property.

UFRCA comment: If someone has a concern and calls in a complaint about another local cottager’s septic, than the NBMCA will come out and do an inspection. A recent publication of the MMAH, entitled Septic System Re-inspections (available free of charge from the MMAH or on the website:, gives a reasonably clear idea of the responsibilities and powers of municipalities with respect to septic systems under the terms of the Building Code Act (BCA) and the OBC. The building code does not dictate that municipalities conduct septic re-inspection programs; it does, however, say that municipalities have the responsibility for the enforcement of the OBC but can delegate authority to health units and conservation authorities. The OBC is a consumer protection act, not an environmental act. The lack of specificity, however, may open it to interpretation. It provides inspectors with right of entry onto land to determine whether a system is unsafe, and “unsafe” is defined as “not maintained or operated in accordance with the building code.” Included in the BCA under General Requirements for Operation and Maintenance is the following: “sanitary, sewage or effluent shall not emit, discharge, seep, leak or otherwise escape from the sewage system or any part thereof into a piped water supply, well water supply, a watercourse, ground water or surface water.”

“Effluent” is a general term meaning something that flows out; that would include phosphorous and may open the door to an environmental interpretation. Entry into a dwelling is treated differently and is not permitted without the consent of the occupier who must first be informed of his right to refuse entry, but there is a provision for entry under the authority of a warrant which can be obtained in circumstances where the building official or designated inspector has some reason to believe that the septic system is “unsafe”.
7. How can I volunteer for a re-inspection?
NBMCA: A re-inspection of your property via our Site Inspection Application process can be conducted on a request basis. Transportation to and from the property is a requirement of the property owner.

UFRCA: A re-inspection of your property via our Site Inspection Application process can be conducted on a request basis. If you would like to volunteer for a re-inspection of your cottage septic system, then all you have to do is call the North Bay Mattawa Conservation Authority and speak with Jordan Hughes, at (705) 474-5420, fax (705) 474-9793 or e-mail

Once you have contacted the North Bay Mattawa Conservation Authority, then they will make an appointment to visit your cottage and conduct an inspection. You will have to make arrangements to bring them out to your cottage by boat at either Dokis or Sturgeon Falls.
8. What is the full cost of a re-inspection?
NBMCA: The fee for individual re-inspection (Site Inspection Applications) of your property is $225 per site plus transportation to and from the property. This fee is based on a minimum of 5 properties within the watershed having the inspection conducted on the same day.
9. If I fail my re-inspection, do I need to upgrade my septic system?
NBMCA: If your sewage disposal system is found to be malfunctioning, it will be required to be upgraded.
10. If I fail my inspection, how much time do I have before I have to get it fixed?
NBMCA: The time frame for the upgrade to be completed will be determined based on the impact is having on the surrounding environment for example: raw sewage vs. grey-water discharge.

UFRCA: If your cottage septic system fails the re-inspection, then according to the law, you have to upgrade your septic system. However, if your septic does not meet the current code, the North Bay Conservation Authority will work with you throughout the entire process to ensure that you understand the process and the requirements. The severity of the failure will dictate the prescribed time-line for the upgrade.
11. Does your jurisdiction cover all of the Upper French River, since it currently covers different municipalities (West Nipissing, Parry Sound)?
NBMCA: The North Bay- Mattawa Conservation Authority is legislated to enforce Part 8 of the Ontario Building Code in both Nipissing and Parry Sound Districts excluding the Township of Archipelago.
12a. If I sell my cottage, do I need to get a septic inspection?
NBMCA: Generally when a sale of cottage occurs, the NBMCA are circulated a copy of a previous approval by the lawyers. In addition, it is also becoming common for banks to request this document as well. At this time the NBMCA advises if there is a record for the sewage disposal system. The lawyers also inquire if there are any outstanding work orders on the property (occurrences). If there is an outstanding work order, then it is a negotiating factor if the present owner does not want to fix the problem for the new owner. If there is a violation (occurrence) on the property and it is sold without being fixed, then the new owner inherits the problem and the liability to rectify it.
12b. What if the cottage has been in the family for generations and there is no record of septic documentation with the NBMCA (grand-fathered before their records were computerized)?
NBMC: If the cottage has been in the family for generations and there is no septic record on file at the NBMCA then it will be indicated in the comments to the purchasing lawyers. It would therefore then be the option of the purchaser if they want to proceed with an inspection of the septic system prior to purchasing. This would include exposing the tank and septic bed header and end caps to verify the size. There is a fee of approximately $225 associated with this service. If they want to verify if the system is properly functioning they should contact a licensed installer to comment on this issue. Banks and financial institutions are often looking for proof of a sewage disposal now. "It's Buyer Beware".

UFRCA: The simple answer is that a septic inspection is not required before any property is sold unless there is an outstanding work order on a previously identified septic violation. However, as a buyer, it is always recommended, similar to a home inspection in the city, that a request be made for a septic inspection prior to purchasing. In addition, while the sale is not conditional on a septic inspection, any bank or sponsoring financial institution may request that as part of the financing agreement.


Re-Inspection Programs

There is no official “re-inspection program” for the Upper French River as of 2004. While the North Bay Mattawa Conservation Authority presented this issue to the UFRCA in the spring of 2003, it was not implemented due to funding issues at the NBMCA. In addition, this program was not presented to the UFRCA membership for ratification.
Currently there are no motions or formal requests within the UFRCA to implement or request a septic re-inspection program on the Upper French River. However, we did want to provide our members with information about the program and the benefits for future consideration.

Residents of the Upper French River should want a septic re-inspection program because of water quality. All septic systems need regulation and maintenance but if they are near water they need special consideration. When septic systems are near lakes the water table is often close to the surface and the absorption field near open water. This can result in contaminants leaching into the water. This can happen even though your system appears to be working well and complies with code. A study done several years ago by the LaGrange, Indiana County Health Department, in which sophisticated measuring equipment was used, demonstrated the presence in near-shore areas of invisible septic plumes. Phosphorous concentrations were 2-10 times higher than they were mid-lake; and bacterial counts in high water level conditions exceeded the allowable limit for recreational use, e.g. swimming. These less obvious types of system failure related to migration in the soil of septic effluent, sometimes for long distances, can go on for years without being recognized and pose a threat to water quality and human health.
In Ontario, you will remember that the now defunct Cottage Pollution Control Program, depending upon which year you check, found that 1 out of every 3 or 4 systems inspected was malfunctioning, and these numbers are borne out, for the most part, virtually everywhere else; all the septic re-inspection programs they looked at reported failure rates, minimally, of over 20%. It is also important to note that failing systems taken out of service will continue to leach pollutants into surface and ground water for up to 10 years, pointing up the necessity for quick action.
Population Growth + Unregulated Septic Systems = Contaminated Water
In Ontario the responsibility for septic systems now rests with the municipalities. Municipal councillors, even those who are already convinced of the economic, environmental, and health benefits of a septic re-inspection program, have expressed concerns about how to structure such a program, how to fund and staff it, and about liability issues.

If you are engaged in new construction it is recommended to place the septic system as far away from the shoreline as possible. This distance should be even farther than building codes requires. Those regulations are designed primarily to protect human health rather than prevent other effects such as excessive weed growth. Contaminants, especially nutrients, can easily travel farther than those minimum distances in some soil conditions. Also, design the system so that it will accommodate increased future use, in order to avoid costly replacement later on.

Perhaps in the future, with better education, municipal funding and a realistic stabilization of installation cost for new septic systems, the UFRCA will be able to revisit the issue of a re-inspection program.
Although the Upper French River does not have an official re-inspection program, other Associations and districts have implemented them throughout the province. For example, the Cottage Pollution Control Program, run by the Ontario Ministry of Environment in the mid 1990s, inspected properties various Muskoka Lakes. The following results from those septic system inspections illustrate a typical finding from a septic re-inspection program. 

  • 10% met the requirements

  • 32% had satisfactory performance (slightly deficient in design, setback, etc.)

  • 32% were seriously substandard (likely polluting; did not meet design standards at that time)

  • 17% were nuisance (wash water or solid waste)

  • 1% were direct polluters (waste going to surface or groundwater)

  • 8% were unclassified

Septic General Information
- Septic system failure
- Shoreline septic systems
- Dye-testing
- Maintenance tips
The two most common outcomes that result from septic failure are:
1. Degraded water quality resulting from nutrient loading:
Phosphorous and nitrogen act like natural fertilizers. They cause weeds to grow and algae blooms to erupt. Water clarity decreases and swimming becomes less pleasant. More importantly, when the algae die, the decaying process depletes the oxygen in the water. Certain species of fish suffocate and die and the ecosystem is disrupted. (FYI – One pound of phosphorous will produce 500 pounds of algae.)

The economic value of clean, clear water has been well documented. Water quality is a decisive determinant of where people spend their vacation dollars and buy property. A landmark, oft-cited study done in Maine put a clear dollar value on water clarity and determined that decreased water clarity would mean millions of dollars in lost revenue to the state. Here in Ontario, a Ministry of Environment study done in 1995 cited water quality as the number one factor in angler satisfaction. (As of January, 1999, fishing and related industries were worth billions of dollars to the economy of the province and supported 55,000 jobs.)
2. Human health hazards:
Where polluted discharges enter water, pathogens (disease causing organisms) may be present. Rising and falling water levels, which change soil conditions, can exacerbate the situation. As is often the case, children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems are the most vulnerable to these pathogens, which most commonly cause things like stomach ache, diarrhea, and infections of the eye, ear, or throat. More serious diseases can occur (such as hepatitis and cholera). Fecal waste from humans carries the most human pathogens and therefore presents a serious health concern. It can enter the water from improperly functioning septic systems.

For example, the health department reported, following a Walkerton-type E-coli outbreak in Albany, New York during the summer of 1999, that the E-coli strain responsible for the outbreak had been found in a nearby septic system, not in livestock manure, as was the case in the Walkerton outbreak.
Shoreline Septic Systems
On the Upper French River, most of the septic systems are on shoreline property and are often close to the water and are sometimes saturated during high water periods. As a result, they are very likely to leak wastes to lakes and streams. Also, when shorelines erode, the distance between the septic system and the shoreline gets shorter and shorter, making it more likely that liquid waste could move horizontally through the soil to the bank and then quickly over the surface to the water. This pollution can happen even though your system appears to be working well and complies with local health department codes.
The effects of septic system wastes on lakes and streams are well documented. Nutrients (especially phosphorus) from leaky septic systems play a major role in causing excessive weed and algae growth in lakes and ponds. Just a small amount of additional phosphorus in a lake or pond can make a huge difference in the amount of aquatic weeds that grow during the spring and summer. Excessive weed growth, in turn, affects the ability of fish to grow and could even result in large fish kills in summer or winter. Too many weeds also make the water less enjoyable because of weed-tangled boat motors, weedy swimming areas, etc. Liquid wastes from your septic system that reach the water increase the chance that swimmers near your shore could catch a variety of diseases and ailments, some serious, which are associated with these wastes.
Septic Dye Tests
A septic test that has become very popular with our members is the dye test. The kit is very easy to use. All you have to do is release a capsule in your toilet (on a sunny day) and wait to see if your septic and weeping bed show signs of the dye. The test will help detect the early signs of a septic system failure, which could potentially save the owner repair costs that could be thousand of dollars if left unabated.
This kit is available from SEPTIC TEST in North Bay. The SEPTIC TEST kit is currently only available through direct sales (by mail or phone). The cost of each kit is $8.95 plus shipping and handling ($4.00).


You can order a kit by contacting:

153 First Avenue East
North Bay, Ontario
P1B 1J7


Septic Maintenance Tips

  • Use a good quality, one-ply, toilet tissue that breaks down easily when wet. One way to find out is to put a hand full of toilet tissue in a jar half full of water. Shake the jar and if the tissue breaks apart easily, the product is suitable for the septic tank. High wet-strength tissues are not suitable. As long as the tissue breaks up easily, colour has no effect on the septic tank. Many scented toilet tissues have high wet strength.

  • Use soaps and detergents, which are low in phosphates. Most automatic dish washing detergents contain high concentrations of phosphates.

  • Do not flush hazardous chemicals such as paints, varnish, thinners, waste oil, pesticides, photographic solutions, etc.

  • Systems are designed to handle domestic wastewater. Never flush things that do not break down easily (facial tissue, large amounts of vegetable scrapings, coffee grounds, chemicals, paints, oils, sanitary napkins, applicators, condoms, medicines, pesticides, poisons, strong disinfectants, etc.). These can damage a system or substantially increase the need for cleaning the septic tank.

  • Make efforts to minimize the amount of water that goes into the septic tank; typical water use is about 227 litres (50 gallons) per day for each person. Try not to exceed that amount.

  • Do not pour grease or cooking oil down the drain (or toilet). Grease and oil is hard to break down. It will eventually move into the soil, plugging it off.

  • Keep your fixtures in good repair. A slow-running toilet can add large amounts of water. A running toilet discharging ¼ gallon per minute will result in 360 gallons per day. This is more water than a sewage system for a 3-bedroom home is designed for. To test the toilet, put a few drops of food colouring in the toilet tank. If it shows up in the bowl, it is leaking. It may take as long as an hour for colour to show in bowl.

  • Using too much soap or detergent can cause problems with the septic system. It is difficult to estimate how dirty a load of laundry is, and most people use far more cleaning power than is needed. If there are lots of suds in your laundry tub when the washer discharges, cut back on the amount of detergent for the next similar load. It's generally best not to use inexpensive detergents, which may contain excessive amounts of filler or carrier. Some of these fillers are montmorillonite clay, which is used to seal soils! The best solution may be to use a liquid laundry detergent, since they are less likely to have carriers or fillers that may harm the septic system.

  • The most effective way to reduce the sewage flow from a house is to reduce the toilet wastes, which usually account for about 40 percent of the sewage flow. Many toilets use 5 to 6 gallons per flush. Some of the so-called low water use toilets are advertised to use only 3.5 gallons per flush. Usually the design of the bowl hasn't been changed, however, and often two flushes are needed to remove all solids. That's 7 gallons! Toilets are available which have been redesigned and will do a good job with one gallon or less per flush. Using a 1-gallon toilet rather than a 5-gallon toilet will reduce sewage flows from a home by about a third. This reduction may be more than enough to make the sewage system function again. While prices may vary, 1-gallon toilets can usually be purchased in the $200 range, far less than the cost of a new sewage treatment system.

  • New low-flush toilets (required in all new buildings) use 1 L water and work very efficiently.

  • Baths and showers can use lots of water. "Setting up camp" in the shower with a showerhead flow of 5 gallons per minute will require 100 gallons in 20 minutes. Showerheads that limit the flow to 1.5 or 2 gallons per minute are available and should be used. Filling the tub not quite so full and limiting the length of showers will result in appreciable water savings.

Be alert to these warning signs:

  • Sewage surfacing over the tile field.

  • Sewage backs up in the house.

  • Mushy ground of greener grass in the area of the septic system

  • Slow draining toilet or drains.

  • Sewage odours.


Interestingly, the Ontario Building Code (OBC), which deals with septic system regulations in Ontario, does not distinguish between septic systems that are adjacent to water and those that are not, but Ontario is quite alone in this regard. The state of Massachusetts, which is the only state in the U.S. that has state-wide mandatory septic re-inspection programs, does not require, for example, that all cesspools in the state be replaced unless they are located close to water.

The U.S. EPA’s publication, “Guideline for Management of On-site/Decentralized Wastewater Systems”, suggests 5 model management programs with numbers 1 to 5 representing increased levels of control as public health and environmental concerns dictate. While most traditional on-site systems were thought to fall into level 1 or the minimum level of management, it was stated that level 3 should be selected for sensitive areas “such as those along a lakefront”. This management level includes renewable operating permits and regular compliance monitoring reports.
To quote from this document:
“Ponds, lakes and coastal bays are all susceptible to over-growth of algae and other aquatic plants due to an overabundance of nitrogen and phosphorous from various sources, including septic systems. One of the primary reasons for the failure of these systems is the lack of adequate management. In a majority of cases, the homeowner is not aware of system failure until it becomes catastrophic.” The EPA also found “that septic systems constitute the third most common source of ground water contamination.”
On April 6, 1998 the responsibility for septic systems was transferred from the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH). The BCA was amended to include the regulation of septic systems. In southern Ontario this authority was delegated to the Municipal Council and councils may enter into agreements with other agencies to execute these responsibilities. In northern Ontario septic systems remain under interim control of the previously responsible agency, i.e., a Health Unit or a Conservation Authority. With respect to the Upper French River, this designation has been given to the North Bay Mattawa Conservation Authority.
The scope of septic re-inspection programs is limited by the wording, definitions and regulations of the BCA. The BCA was amended to include septic systems under the definition of a building and construction. The BCA enables a municipality to pass by-laws, to appoint building inspectors and to issue building permits. It also has jurisdiction over the inspection of "unsafe buildings". As detailed below this general term includes examination of septic systems. Section 15 of the Building Code Act, specifies:
An inspector may enter upon the land or into buildings at any reasonable time without a warrant for the purpose of inspecting a building to determine:
· Whether the building is unsafe, or
· Whether an order made under subsection (3) has been complied with.
This section also specifies when a building is unsafe, i.e., "structurally inadequate or faulty for the purpose for which it is used, or in a condition that could be hazardous to the health and safety of persons ¼" Further it specifies that a sewage system is unsafe if it is not maintained or operated in accordance with the BCA and the building code.
The government booklet, Code and Guide for Sewage Systems, has been purchased by the UFRCA for all our members. This booklet is small, concise and contains all the sewage-related material in the Ontario Building Code in one handy volume. In addition, you get an extra guide (not found in the Codebook) to help understand the requirement, info on all approved name-brand treatment units and more. Stay in compliance and keep apprised of the latest in sewage management techniques and regulations.
Yes, even though our cottages are only seasonal, it does not hurt to have the septic tanks cleaned out every now and then. Every person using the plumbing contributes solids that will accumulate in the septic tank. These solids (sludge) collect, and are digested very slowly by micro-organisms in the anaerobic environment of the septic tank. Solids accumulate over a period of time and reduce the storage capacity of the septic chamber. This reduced storage capacity allows less time for the sewage to be in the tank so solids will not separate from the water as well. Also, there is a quantity of grease, soap curds and other materials that float on the surface of the liquid (scum). Both sludge and scum must be removed from the septic tank periodically and disposed of in a safe manner, usually by hiring a septic disposal vacuum truck.
If a septic tank is not cleaned on a regular basis, suspended solids and organic material will not settle out, and will be discharged into the soil absorption portion of a system. The additional suspended solids and organic material will clog the soil, eventually causing failure of the system. It can be very expensive to fix.

North Bay Mattawa Conservation Authority

The North Bay - Mattawa Conservation Authority (NBMCA) was formed in 1972 and is one of the 38 Conservation Authorities established throughout Ontario. Each Authority operates independently in a co-operative partnership between member municipalities and the Province of Ontario, operating under the Conservation Authorities Act of Ontario. As a community-based, environmental organization, the NBMCA is dedicated to conserving, restoring, developing and managing renewable natural resources on a watershed basis.
The Conservation Authority provides a variety of services related to sewage disposal systems including:

  • Issuing Sewage System Permits

  • Commenting and conducting site inspections related to consent and sub-division applications

  • File Reviews and Site Inspections for expansions or renovations to existing structures

  • Site inspections verifying the existing property is suitable for a sewage disposal system

  • Plan Input and Review

  • Complaint Investigations

  • Legal Inquiries

  • Re-inspection Program as part of our Watershed Management Strategy
705-474-9793 (fax)


Ontario Regulations For Outhouses


For articles on "The Perfect Privy" (Cottage Life Aug. 1999 and Nov./Dec. 2005) and "The Environmental Effects of Septic Systems VS Outhouses on Water Quality" (Cottage Life July/Aug. 2001) click here and then type in outhouses.

Cottage Life

The Question
What are the Ontario regulations for outhouses located on waterfront lots?

The Answer
Outhouses are covered in the Ontario Building Code as Class 1 sewage systems, referred to as “earth pit” privies. As long as building regulations are followed and the only thing going into the outhouse is human waste, there is nothing wrong with having a biffy. Better to send your beer-drinking buddies there than have them overload your septic.

Find a good location away from the water according to your local municipality’s setback rules. Dig the pit (give those buddies some shovels) so that the bottom is 90 cm above the high groundwater table with 60 cm of soil or leaching bed fill on the sides and below the pit. Dig in the spring when the water table is at its highest. If your pit fills up with water, you know you’ve hit the water table and you’ll need to find a drier spot. Mound the earth up around the outside of the privy, as per Code, so that rainwater is directed away from the pit, and to keep the vermin out. (You can also add a sheet-metal barrier to prevent rot on the bottom of the structure.) The OBC requires you to vent the pit with a pipe running behind the toilet seat up through the roof. On a hot day, you’ll be glad you did.




Outhouse Construction Regulations & Tips

No building permit is required according to the Ontario Building Code (OBC).  Outhouses are considered a "Class 1 sewage treatment system" by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, and as a result, they do not require a permit or inspection.
Construction Regulations

  • There must be at least one ventilation duct, screened at the top.

  • There must be an impervious material on the inside vertical face of the enclosed bench - plastic or galvanized metal.

  • There must be a self-closing door (simply add spring hinges) to minimize the entry of critters.

  • There must be one or more screened openings for ventilation. This doesn't have to be a window.

  • The privy must be easily sanitized - painting the inside makes cleaning a much easier task.

The requirements for Pit Placement include:

  • 15 metres from a drilled well that has a watertight casing at least 6 metres deep.

  • 30 metres from a dug well or a spring used for drinking water.

  • 15 metres from a lake, river, pond, stream, or reservoir.

  • 3 metres from any property line.

  • 90 cm above the high groundwater table in your area.

The sides of the pit must be reinforced to prevent collapse.  The pit must be surrounded on all sides and on its bottom by not less than 60 cm of soil or leaching bed fill. (This means that at least 60 cm of soil must separate the bottom of the hole from bedrock, or some such impermeable barrier.)  The soil around the superstructure of the pit (i.e. the base on which the outhouse sits) must be raised or mounded to a height of at least 15 cm above surrounding ground level to encourage runoff away from the pit.
Tips for building an outhouse:

  • Dig the hole first. (It's been known to happen: An enthusiastic DIYer erects the structure, and then can't find a way to excavate the pit.)

  • Pressure-treated or creosoted timbers are the best material for the base of the structure; untreated hemlock or tamarack (also known as eastern larch) are also good choices for their natural ability to resist decay.

  • Use 6" X 6" timbers (minimum) to frame the hole. Half-lap corners are advisable.

  • If you use pressure-treated wood, remember to treat all cut ends with an appropriate preservative.

  • Avoid letting soil touch the floor frame.

bottom of page