Soil Suitability for septic tank absorbtion fields around the City of Morden. (Credit Manitoba AgriMaps)
Soil type is about to become more important for those looking to install a septic field in the Pembina Valley.
Nutrient management regulations came into the spot light in the R.M. of Stanley last year after it was discovered that a large swath of land near Morden was not zoned for septic field installation according to Manitoba Sustainable Development.
“Somebody wanted to subdivide in that area and we found out, all of a sudden that no, you can’t put a field there because the ground isn’t right for it, and that was the first we had ever heard of such a thing,” Reeve Morris Olafson said.
The swath of land northwest of Morden has only pockets, about 20 per cent of total acres, suitable for septic fields according to David Hay, supervisor of nutrient management regulation with Manitoba Sustainable Development.
The area, which contains several gravel pits, also contained a designated rural development area to the north. The R.M. hoped to attract residential development to the region due to the land’s otherwise limited agricultural value.
“Here we find, no, you can’t really do that without special things. You have to haul your own soil in or change it around or have holding tanks, so it changes the plan around a bit,” Olafson said.
Hay said that some developments have been allowed on otherwise restricted land when developers have brought in acceptable soil, such as clay.
“Of course, in that particular situation, you need to be able to bring in enough material such that you’re able to meet the separation distances required within the regulation,” Hay said.
Property owners may also apply for a third party review from a certified pedologist or receive director approval for their project.
Such exceptions are only granted if environmental risks are determined to be acceptable and if there would be significant economic damage to the property owner should the project not go through, Hay said.
Developments in unsuitable areas may still install a composting toilet or holding tank.
In 2008, nutrient management regulations were added under the Water Protection Act as part of efforts to preserve water quality in the Lake Winnipeg watershed.
Existing septic fields are not effected by the regulations, Hay said, but added that property owners will run into problems should fields need to be replaced in restricted zones.
Olafson noted that there may be other ineligible areas in the R.M. that have not been identified, since no comprehensive study has been done to this point. It is unknown if any existing developments are built on unsuitable land.
“There’s been no study done to see where that is or if there is an issue,” Olafson said. “There’s lots of places with grandfathered sewer systems from way back when that are not legal today, really...If they really wanted to go looking, they’d find places, there’s no doubt about that.”
The R.M. will not police existing septic fields, Olafson said, although he noted that staff will start advising people to check their soil prior to a subdivision or building permit.
“First thing we’ll probably tell them is, ‘Okay, go check out your soil types and make sure that you can actually do this on this [land] before you go and subdivide or buy a piece of property that you think you can put a house on,” he said. “This will be number one on your list, because this is a big process. When you subdivide, if you’ve never done it before, it’s quite a daunting thing.”
Olafson noted that the regulations do not significantly impact the R.M.’s long-term development plan.
Provincial soil survey data and maps of septic field suitability are accessible at https://agrimaps.gov.mb.ca/agrimaps/.