Public Health Services

Septic & Well

Geoffrey Hiles, REHS, Supervisor

On-site Inspector and Environmental Health Supervisor
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Information and Application

The Polk County Division of Public Health's Unit of Environmental Health is responsible for septic permitting in the County. Correctly installed septic systems protect public health by preventing groundwater contamination resulting from improperly treated wastewater and sewage discharges to the surface of the ground. Any person owning or controlling a residence, place of business, or place of public assembly which is not served by a public sewer must obtain a septic permit prior to obtaining any building permits or initiating construction. Sites proposed for development are evaluated for suitability of septic systems in accordance with North Carolina sewage disposal laws and rules under the authority of the NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). 

The "Groundwater Protection Rules" require that a well permit be obtained prior to drilling a well in the County. Wells will be inspected by environmental health staff to ensure compliance with existing State well construction standards. Properly constructed wells reduce the chances of groundwater contamination from surface contaminants. An application for a well permit must be submitted in conjunction with all septic permit applications except where municipal, community, shared, or other water supplies are available to serve the intended project.

Applications for septic and well permits and required fees can be submitted at the Environmental Health Unit located on the at:
35 Walker Street
Columbus, NC 28722

Applicants will need to provide the parcel identification number (PIN), a plat of the property, and a copy of their property survey. For additional information on these and other services please contact us at, (828) 894-3739.

• Who is Affected?
• Procedure for Obtaining a Septic Tank System Permit
• Repairing Septic Tank Systems
• Improvement Permits
• Receive Services
• What are the fees?

Who is Affected?
Any person owning or controlling a residence, place of business, or place of public assembly which is not served by a public sewer must provide an approved wastewater system. 

Procedure for Obtaining a Septic Tank System Permit
A septic tank system permit is one step in a chain of events required prior to beginning construction or placement of any new structure within Polk County. A building permit will not be issued until an AUTHORIZATION TO CONSTRUCT is issued for the installation of your septic tank system.

To obtain an AUTHORIZATION TO CONSTRUCT, an application must first be filed with this Unit. Applications can be made can be made at the Building/Zoning/Environmental Health Inspectors Office (35 Walker St., Columbus, NC 28722) in person, by mail, or by fax. Applications must include a plat of the property and applicable fees. Fee payment can be made by cash, check, or credit card (MasterCard/VISA). Once the application process is completed, an Environmental Health Specialist will be assigned to perform the evaluation. At the time of application, applicants will be provided a checklist. This checklist includes those items necessary to prepare for and expedite the evaluation process. When all checklist items have been completed, applicants will contact the environmental health specialist to schedule an appointment. This evaluation will determine suitability for septic tank installation. It is important to have all property lines and house site clearly marked prior to the specialist's visit.

If the site is determined to be suitable for the proposed project, an Improvement Permit or Authorization to Construct may be issued.

Engineered Option Permit

The engineered option permit allows homeowners to consult with a privately employed engineer in order to complete the process of installing a septic system. In order to initiate the process for this permit, please have your engineer complete the Common Form from NCEHS and return to the Environmental Health office.

Repairing Septic Tank Systems
*Call the Environmental Health Office first to request a permit.
Malfunctioning sub-surface disposal systems often present a challenging problem to homeowners. These are four common types of malfunctions.

1. The flow of sewage is blocked in the system causing the sewer to backup in the residence or building.
2. Sewage rising to the surface of the ground over the septic tank or distribution device.
3. Sewage rising to the surface of the ground over the nitrification lines or downgrade from the absorption area.
4. The contamination of ground water by improperly treated sewage.

These malfunctions are usually a result of a problems with soils, water usage, construction, maintenance, or natural clogging of the soils. The key to successfully correcting the malfunction is a complete evaluation of all the possible causes of the problem. Repairing malfunctioning system without first analyzing the causes of the failure may result in unnecessary expense and/or create additional problems. Repairs may be as simple as pumping the septic tank, adjusting a distribution box, or as complex as designing and installing a new system. It is the Environmental Health Specialist job to carefully analyze all of the factors causing the problem and deciding corrective action.

Improvement Permits

If you are planning to purchase a building lot or property for future development and public sewer is not available you may obtain an IMPROVEMENT PERMIT before you invest. An Improvement Permit indicates that a septic tank system may be installed for your specified project provided that the property is not altered or modified in a manner that may render the site unsuitable. Improvement Permits are valid for at least five years. If the application includes an engineered plat detailing the exact location of the structure and the septic tank system, in addition to a detailed site plan, an Improvement Permit with no expiration date may be issued.

An improvement permit will include:
1. A description of the facility the proposed site is to serve.
2. The proposed wastewater system and its location
3. The design wastewater flow and characteristics
4. The conditions for any site modifications
5. Any other information required by the rules pertinent to the specific site

Improvement permits are not affected by change in ownership of the site for the wastewater system provided both the site for the wastewater system and the facility the system serves are not changed and remain under the ownership or control of the person owning the facility.