Online Tools Help Homeowners with Septic Troubles

By ecoRI News staff

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) has been awarded a $300,000 grant from the state-funded Rhode Island Information Technology Investment Fund (ITIF) for a project to further expand online access to onsite wastewater treatment system (OWTS) records.

A continuation of information technology improvements that began in the 1990s, the new project builds upon recent efforts by DEM to provide digital access to historic OWTS records and certificates of conformance for systems conformed after 1990. These improvements are making it easier for property owners to complete the permitting process and/or retrieve historical files online, according to DEM.

The grant money will be used to implement the next phase of OWTS digitization for online public access. This phase includes buying equipment needed to scan and upload OWTS files upon customer request, improving existing online tools by consolidating separate before-and-after 1990 permit searches, and preparing remaining archived paper files and imaging documents.

The project is expected to be completed in two years, and file preparation is already underway. DEM will retain the services of a vendor through a competitive bid process to image the documents, according to state officials.

Customers need OWTS records when they buy, sell, finance, build, or add on to residential and commercial properties. Information is also critical in situations where an existing OWTS fails or needs repair, and the property owner needs to respond quickly. In Rhode Island, about 2,000 OWTS systems are permitted annually. Records are permanently retained and are available from 1968 through today.

Currently, more than 55,000 OWTS files for systems conformed before 1990, and more than 50,000 certificates of conformance for systems conformed after 1990 are available online. Last year, more than 339,000 searches were conducted, according to DEM.

Conformance is the final step in the OWTS permitting process and is required for a municipality to issue a certificate of occupancy for new construction or to complete an existing property transfer. Per Rhode Island law, OWTS can’t be used until a certificate of conformance is issued.