While many luxury homes in the Comox Valley can be found within the urban confines of Courtenay and Comox, many others are located in rural areas nearby the ocean, wetlands or watercourses and where septic systems are often the norm.
Changes to BC law can and do affect real estate in the province. Two fairly recent major changes included the Riparian Areas Regulation (RAR) of 2006 and the Sewerage System Regulation (SSR) of 2005. These laws and their supporting regulations introduced new processes and restrictions that now apply to and affect many properties in the province.

Riparian fish habitat is protected by the federal Fisheries Act and the provincial Fish Protection Act (including the RAR), the Water Act and municipal bylaws. The RAR was enacted in 2004 and amended in 2006 to protect riparian areas (the areas bordering on streams, lakes and wetlands that link water to land) during residential, commercial and industrial development. The setbacks introduced by the RAR aim to protect fish habitat and for properties that are within or near riparian areas, they also affect where septic fields can be installed.

What most people commonly refer to as a septic system is now called a sewerage system in BC Law. The provincial government introduced a new Sewerage System Regulation (SSR) on May 31, 2005 which falls under the BC Public Health Act. Prior to the SSR, the generally accepted approach of septic systems was disposal but the new regulation focuses on treatment and dispersal and it requires that onsite system must be constructed with the result of not causing or contributing to a health hazard. The SSR contains prescriptive standards such as treatment standards and setback standards for horizontal separation to wells.

The SSR categorizes the onsite systems as either Type 1, Type 2 or Type 3. Type 1 is treatment by septic tank before the effluent is released into land. Type 2 and 3 systems introduce further treatment in order to produce a higher quality affluent that can be dispersed into the soil. For the more technically driven person, the differences between Type 2 and 3 systems are described in the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC (APEGBC) Professional Practice Guidelines Onsite Sewerage Systems (dated Jan 7, 2013) as follows:

  • Type 2 is treatment that produces an effluent consistently containing less than 45mg/L of total suspended solids and having a five day biochemical oxygen demand of less than 45mg/L
  • Type 3 is treatment that produces an effluent consistently containing less than 10mg/L of total suspended solids and having a five day biochemical oxygen demand of less than 10mg/L and a median fecal coliform density of less than 400 Colony Forming Unites per 100 mL.

The SSR requires that system design, construction and maintenance only be undertaken by or under the supervision of Authorized Person who are either professionals or Registered Onsite Wastewater Practitioners (ROWPs). Registered Onsite Wastewater Practitioners (ROWPs) can be Authorized Persons for Types 1 and 2 small flow (less than or equal to 9100 L/day daily design flow) systems. However, all Type 3 systems and all large flow (daily design flows of over 9100 L/day) must be designed, constructed and maintained by or under the supervision of a professional. A ROWP or other person may install and maintain Type 3 and large flow systems under the supervision of a professional.

The maintenance of systems installed before May 31, 2005 does not require an Authorized Person but a significant alteration or repair of these systems is subject to the SSR and maintenance by or under the supervision of an Authorized Person.
Health Authorities and Environmental Health Officers have statutory authority to administer and enforce the SSR, receive and respond to complaints about health hazards, to inspect and take corrective action to alleviate health hazards related to an onsite sewerage system and to carry out legal remedies such as orders and tickets.

It is important to note that under the SSR, the owner is responsible for record keeping and ensuring maintenance is done in accordance with the time intervals defined in the sewerage system maintenance plan. This tidbit of information is just one of the ways a knowledgeable real estate agent can help you when you buy or sell a home.

The above short discussion just scratches the surface of these two important laws. There are many other laws that also can and do affect real estate in the province. Knowing what can and does affect the dream luxury property that you are thinking of making your own is an important part of the overall real estate home buying process. Turn to the Brett Cairns Comox Valley real estate team to help you with those important decisions.

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