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Michigan needs to develop statewide septic system rules

It’s a pretty stomach-turning feeling when positive news highlights a widespread deficiency.

That’s precisely the realization we confronted as our hands began to meet in applause for the fourth township in Leelanau County to choose to enact its own septic testing ordinance. Centerville Township trustees’ decision to enact rules that require septic system inspections before a home can be sold just makes sense.

The new rules require a seller to prove a home’s sewage treatment mechanism is in good working order before a house can be transferred to a new owner.

It’s the kind of move that helps protect our precious water resources from aging and failing home sewage systems that are prevalent in communities across Michigan.

It’s a win for the natural resources that in some way or another enticed each of us to make this place our home — or home away from home.

What doesn’t make sense is the underlying caveat in the news of Centerville Township’s rules change. The fact is, the township wouldn’t need to spend a year developing and debating its new septic inspection rules if our state lawmakers would show a little initiative and enact statewide regulations to help ensure failing septic systems don’t contaminate our lakes, streams and underground drinking water.

In fact, it’s one of the most embarrassing and perplexing gaps in our state’s legal volumes. If we think for a moment, we can find a state regulation for just about every part of our lives. So how can Michigan, the Great Lakes State, be the only state in the nation without a regulation for home septic systems?

The above question sounds absurd because it is. But it’s also the reality highlighted in the subtext surrounding Centerville and other townships’ efforts to strike their own rules to ensure decades old, dilapidated home sewage treatment infrastructure doesn’t destroy our water. In a state where experts estimate there are nearly 1.5 million septic systems, a little oversight seems like a pretty important bar to rise above.

Instead, we are left to rely upon a patchwork of township and county governments’ decisions to provide oversight where the state has failed.

We appreciate forward-thinking efforts undertaken by many elected officials across northern Michigan, important decisions to protect our natural places.

We just wish our state leaders would step up and make such efforts unnecessary.

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