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Trey Downey of Cooper Septic Service works on a private septic system behind a home in Covington on Wednesday, November 15, 2023. (Photo by Chris Granger, The Times-Picayune)

The St. Tammany Parish Council has thrown its support behind?a?pilot program that would inspect some home septic systems?on the northshore, about half of which don’t work properly and leak?untreated sewage into St. Tammany’s waterways.

The council on April 4 adopted a resolution, sponsored by council members Arthur Laughlin and Joe Impastato, for the?program in which?St. Tammany’s Department of Environmental Services will inspect a sample of 1,000 septic systems, a fraction of the?more than 36,000 throughout the parish.

The systems?treat the?sewage on-site before releasing it into the environment.

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Wastewater is piped into a ditch in front of a house in Covington on July 21 2022.?

But many of these systems have not been properly maintained and leak?untreated sewage into roadside drainage ditches. From there, the pollution makes its way into the parish’s rivers and streams and into Lake Pontchartrain.

“It’s a good baby step,”?Impastato said of the pilot program.?“Protecting our bayous, our lakes, and streams is crucial, so we want to make sure we move in that direction.” He acknowledged that his own home septic system wasn’t working properly until he had it maintained recently.

Sewage pollution also allows mosquitoes — in particular, the West Nile–carrying southern house mosquito — to breed faster. A recent study from the parish’s mosquito abatement district found that the sewage pollution allows the mosquito to reproduce so fast that their insecticides were not reducing the mosquito’s population.

The resolution allows the inspections to take place only in certain council districts: 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 11, and 13. Districts that include the more rural, northern parts of the parish, including Folsom and Abita Springs, will not take part in the pilot program, nor will the district that includes Pearl River and certain unincorporated areas around Slidell.

Laughlin said the initial program was being undertaken with parish funds at no cost to homeowners, with the goal that it will give the parish data that would be useful in applying for grant funding. Laughlin said he hopes the parish could use grant funding to build out more robust sewer systems and keep residents from relying on septic tanks.

“I don’t want to replace septic systems now and in 20 years we have the same problem,” he said. “I want us to fix this problem.”?

The proposal follows a more comprehensive plan pushed last year by former Council member Rykert Toledano, which would mandate inspections of each system every three years. That measure stalled, with the council voting to postpone its approval indefinitely.

“It is singly the best thing that we could possibly do for St. Tammany Parish environmentally,” Toledano said of requiring septic inspections. “The more the community grows, the more that the population increases, the more important this is.”

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that an area around Madisonville would not take part in the pilot sewage inspection program. The story has been corrected.

Email Alex Lubben at alex.lubben@theadvocate.com or follow him on Twitter, @AlexLubben.