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Septic tank showing components.

Welcome » Environmental Health/Water Quality » Septic Systems » Septic FAQs

Septic Systems Frequently Asked Questions

A staff person is available to answer questions Monday through Thursday from 9am-10am.

The type of system you need depends on the type of soil and how much of the soil there is to a water table or other restrictive barrier like ‘hard-pan’ or clay.   You will need to meet with a designer to discuss your plans and then dig test holes in the area identified by the designer as meeting setbacks and other necessary features.  The designer will evaluate the soils and determine what type of system you will need.  You can also look on the county website at nearby properties to see what type of septic system they have.  Keep in mind that some older systems may not meet current code.

Designers are licensed through the State Department of Licensing. They are listed in the local phone book under Septic. We have a list of Designers that have submitted work in Jefferson County. Click here to access the list. The list does not constitute an endorsement of these licensees nor is it all-inclusive. Talk to your neighbors, friends, realtor, builder, etc. for referrals.

View  state-wide list from the Department of Licensing website

After the designer determines what type of system is required, they can discuss the costs or you can contact a licensed installer to get a range of what a particular system might cost.

The application for a permit is found at Jefferson County Community Development, 621 Sheridan, Port Townsend WA. or at this website under forms.  Usually the person designing the septic system will complete the forms, get the property owner's signature and submit the proposal for review.

After the application is submitted to the County it takes between 3 and 6 weeks to make a decision. An applicant will generally know within 30 days if additional information is required.

Three (3) years.

We certify installers for onsite sewage systems and have a list of currently licensed individuals.

View the current list.

Or you can look in the phone book under Septic Tanks and Systems-Contractors, Designers and Dealers. Ask if they are licensed in Jefferson County.

Yes, however you will still need an approved drainfield for the gray water. The onsite sewage system for gray water must meet the same treatment standards for the soil conditions as a combination system (black and gray water).

The State Department of Health reviews and approves water saving toilets, both composting and incinerating. We can send you the list or you can find it on the DOH website

View theList of Registered On-site Treatment and Distribution Products.

Caring for your septic system

Your tank should be checked to measure the solids accumulation in the tank every 3 years. Click here for info on how to inspect your tank, how to measure the solids and how to install access risers for ease of maintenance.

We certify septic tank pumpers for onsite sewage systems and have a list of currently licensed individuals on this site.

View the list.

You can look in the phone book under Septic Tanks & Systems-Cleaning. Ask if they are licensed in Jefferson County.

Between $300 and $400; it depends on tank size because they pay for disposal based on gallons pumped.

Generally you want to use plants with a shallow root system that can be mowed or maintained. Trees and shrubs should be planted at least 10’ away. WSU has some written information on landscaping over drainfields. If you have a specific plant you want to know about you can call WSU at 360-379-5610 and leave a message for a Master Gardener. They can tell you about the particular plant and if it would be appropriate.

Phamplets are available on different types of systems and basics of caring for your septic system.

View the available pamphlets on this site. or visit our office.

Check our “Quick Links” for other useful sites. They have information on different types of septic systems, landscaping and caring for your system, and controlling erosion and stabilizing banks.

Complaints/report of violations.

You can contact us at 360-385-9444 and report the problem. We cannot take anonymous reports but we can keep your name confidential. Staff from our office will investigate to determine if a violation exists and will take appropriate follow-up actions.

You can contact us at 360-385-9444 and report the problem. We cannot take anonymous reports but we can keep your name confidential. Staff from our office will investigate to determine if a violation exists and will take appropriate follow-up actions.

Monitoring Inspection requirements - Evaluation of Existing Onsite Sewage System
  • A septic system can impact public health and the environment in a variety of ways. Some are not as obvious as surfacing sewage or a clogged toilet. A careful inspection of the system dramatically increases the chance that problems will be discovered, and can then be corrected. In addition, regular inspections of a septic system should lead to a longer life for the system by fixing small problems before they become big problems.
  • Jefferson County Code 8.15 requires that a septic system be inspected to assure that it is working properly.
  • A conventional gravity system must be inspected every 3 years
  • A system that has a pump or other alternative system must be inspected annually (every year).

No. The inspection will determine if your tank needs to be pumped. In general the tank will need to be pumped when the solid contents equals 1/3 of the tank volume; when the scum and sludge layers exceed 6 and 12 inches respectively; or for other reasons noted by your inspector.

It is strongly recommended you be present during the inspection but it is not required.

The cost of an inspection will vary depending on the size, complexity and how accessible your system and its components are. Contact a Certified O&M Specialist

  • For an inspection at the time of sale the cost is negotiable.  Either party can pay for it.  The code states that an inspection that is current must be on file prior to the transfer of the title.
  • Routine monitoring inspections or those required for a building permit are paid for by the property owner.

The inspection ports on the top of the tank must be uncovered and loosened so that the solids in the tank can be measured and components checked.  Any monitoring ports in the drainfield or treatment system need to be accessible for inspection.  Many septic system records images have been scanned. This may help you in locating tanks and other system components.  Click here for information on viewing these records. 

Jefferson County is currently educating homeowners on the new regulations and the importance of regular inspections, and is committed to working with homeowners rather than against them. We are updating our records and making information about septic systems available to property owners. Administrative penalties or fines for non-compliance are possible.

Installation of access risers over the outlet and pump-out opening on the septic tank and pump chamber are required.  The service provider may suggest an access riser over the distribution box or installation of an outlet filters to improve the operation and maintenance of your septic system. There are no other upgrades that are required by the county unless repair are needed related to a system that is failing.

  • Many of the problems identified are items that, if not corrected, can lead to premature failure.  It is the responsibility of the system owner to make sure the corrections are made.
  • Simple repairs such as replacing a septic tank baffle or broken lid can be done by the homeowner or other certified professional without a permit. 
  • If the problem is serious, the system is failing, backing up in the house or discharging on the surface of the ground or if components were installed without permits, you may be required to repair or replace your septic system. A permit will be required, and you will need to work with a licensed designer or professional engineer.

The monitoring inspection results must be submitted by the inspector online to  After the report is submitted it is available for viewing by anyone by searching on the address or parcel number of the property.

No, between 2000 and 2009 the document remained with the onsite sewage permit file and is scanned and accessible to any member of the public online, click here for instructions. Since June of 2009 the O&M Specialist or Designer enters the report in the OnlineRME database system. The document remains available online and searchable by the parcel number or the address at  Septic system records can be requested for viewing during office hours at the Health Department 9am - 4:30pm Monday – Thursday. Some of the information from the monitoring inspections is downloaded to the Jefferson County database. This information is stored in the Septic Operations and Monitoring or SOM case.

In most cases the answer is yes. You will need to take the required training to become authorized to inspect your own system. Go to www.jeffersoncountypublichealth/  for more information.

After a homeowner completes the training and gets authorized they can inspect their system if it is a conventional gravity fed or pump system, a pressurized drainfield, a mound or a sandfilter.

Some systems such as Glendon biofilters or those with aerobic treatment units or drip irrigation are proprietary devices and have specific requirements for inspection. You should still become familiar with your system and understand how it works to keep it functioning properly.

Yes. The counties bordering the Straits and Puget Sound are implementing similar programs to enforce the state regulations and other counties are moving forward with adopting the requirements.


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Jefferson County Jefferson County Public Health
615 Sheridan Street - Port Townsend, WA 98368
Community Health: 360.385.9400 | Environmental Health: 360.385.9444