Looking for a place to go: Halifax-area septic tank haulers cut off from disposal site

Homes and businesses that rely on a septic tank system in the Halifax area are being told the facility that used to accept their waste can’t do it anymore because of operational challenges. (Shutterstock / ronstik - image credit)

Paul Young said his home in Fall River, N.S., was scheduled to have its septic system cleared out in July, but that's not likely now.

Young was notified this week that the company that pumps out the waste was recently cut off from a key disposal site and it can't empty his tank.

"It's going to be a complicated winter if we don't get a pump this summer," Young said.

"At some point … septic tanks are going to fill up and [while] we're not at an emergency point yet … we are at our due date, so it's only going to be a certain amount of time before this becomes an emergency."

One of the facilities that was previously accepting septic waste from the Halifax area was the GFL West Hants Landfill. The company did not respond to inquiries from CBC looking to confirm if it was no longer accepting septic waste from Halifax or other outside areas.

An email from the general manager of the GFL West Hants Landfill to septic haulers this week stated the West Hants facility that normally takes the material is "currently experiencing operational challenges" and attempts are being made to resolve the issues.

Longer commutes to dump waste

"It is understood these challenges not only affect our facility but your business as well. Therefore, to provide some time for you to communicate to your customers and make alternate disposal arrangements, the facility will continue to accept material until end of day on June 14," the email read.

"At that point, we will no longer be able to accept your septic waste until further notice. We will provide an update as soon as we learn more about these challenges and understand how best to remediate."

A source in the septic industry said that haulers are being advised to truck septic waste to Amherst, which would mean a commute three times longer to dispose of waste. That means haulers won't be able to pump as many tanks

Coun. Pam Lovelace, who represents Hammonds Plains-St. Margaret's, said she became aware of the septic issue this week.

Lovelace said the province manages septic system approvals and regulations, but the municipality should be taking a strong role in where the disposal sites are located — especially as Halifax's population increases.

"I'm concerned that with this high rate of growth happening right now in HRM, we're not engaged in understanding fully what the future of septic disposal is actually going to look like," Lovelace said.

Population growth considerations

"If we're reliant upon other municipal units, other municipalities to provide the services that our residents need, I think we need to have a broader conversation with the provincial government as far as understanding how we're going to manage this."

Young agrees, and likens it to other issues the municipality is facing like crowded roads and hospitals.

"Population growth is great, but the infrastructure has to be in place to do it," he said. "And it's like nobody has planned for this."

Mitigation efforts

He said the company that usually clears out his septic tank has offered tips on conservation until they can pump again.

"For me, it ends up being a little bit more complicated," he said. "We have some health issues in our family that means bathroom usage is, it's got to happen, it's not like we can hold it," he said.

An HRM spokesperson said the city is aware of the issue with the GFL West Hants Landfill and that there have been talks with the province and Halifax Water to "better understand potential options for septage haulers seeking locations to dispose of waste."