ORGANIZED SLIME: The Great Septic Rip-off of the 21st Century

I’m putting on a slightly different hat here. Six years ago I wrote a book on septic systems (Septic Systems Owners’ Manual). Since then, major developments have been going on with septic systems and, as a result, we are now revising the book. I’m also writing a magazine article for Mother Earth News on the corruption and scams that characterize the current design and implementation of septic systems in North America. I’m still working on the article, but I’m publishing this in advance to get the word out on this rip-off of homeowners (and taxpayers). Following is part of an early draft of the magazine article:

A hoax of tremendous proportions, and consequent rip-off of homeowners with septic systems is now under way in America. It has been perpetrated by:


-Health regulators


-Land development interests

-No-growth advocates

-Misled Environmentalists

The crowning glory of this planning (at least in California) is Assembly Bill 885, now (as I write this) bouncing around in the California legislature like a loaded cannonball. If enacted, it would apply onsite wastewater standards state-wide. The trouble is, it’s a bloated plan, crafted by engineers who stand to make millions, if not billions – I kid you not! – of dollars from forcing home owners to install what are in most cases unnecessary high-tech systems, costing $30-50,000.

I’m addressing this disturbing tale to homeowners with septic tanks (septic systems). If you haven’t yet been told by regulators you need to upgrade your septic system, you will. It’s just around the corner. It’s a movement that generates cash for engineers, regulators, and special interests, and it’s accelerating.

Who am I to be telling this tale? I am NOT an engineer. In fact, after 15 years studying septic systems, I do not trust engineers (of the wastewater variety) one whit. I have seen scam after scam being perpetrated on towns, as well as individuals by self-serving engineers and their accomplices. We’ll get back to this in more detail.

I am a layman and I believe in the value of common sense. I have built three houses, built one septic system by hand (in Big Sur, Calif.), and I spent about 8 years studying septic systems and interviewing about a dozen of what I considered the most intelligent wastewater experts in the country. I then edited and published the Septic Systems Owners Manual in 2000. In addition I served for 2 years as the homeowners’ representative on the Marin County (Calif.) Septic System Technical Advisory Committee.

Homeowners With Septic Tanks Be Forewarned

There are two ways that you, the homeowner, will run across this scam:

As An Individual

Either your system fails, or you build an addition, or some bureaucratic requirement of some sort means you have to hire an engineer who will design an expensive (where I live now $30,000+) system requiring a huge mound, pumps, and electricity in lieu of a simple gravity-powered septic system which, in many, if not most of these cases, would work fine.

First and foremost, brother and sister homeowners, stay out of the hands of county health inspectors. Get a permit to fix a failed leachfield? No way José. You’re just asking for trouble. Find out how to fix it right* and do it yourself. (You did not hear this from me.)

As a Small Town

It’s exactly the same in one small town after another (nationwide):

-Engineers announce that septic systems in your town are polluting groundwater (or a lake, river, the ocean, etc.). Typically there is no verification that the pathogens are human , rather than animal.

-By the time you find out about it, a plan is under way. The engineers have coordinated this with health officials and often local politicians and selected townspeople.

-You will be threatened with various measures if you oppose the plan (no future building, no remodels, or worse, condemnation).

-Grant money is available.

-The old tried-and-true gravity septic systems will seldom be used.

-It will somehow end up costing $20-50,000 per house.

-There will big fees to engineers and the local health regulating agency.


About Lloyd Kahn

Lloyd Kahn started building his own home in the early '60s and went on to publish books showing homeowners how they could build their own homes with their own hands. He got his start in publishing by working as the shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog with Stewart Brand in the late '60s. He has since authored six highly-graphic books on homemade building, all of which are interrelated. The books, "The Shelter Library Of Building Books," include Shelter, Shelter II (1978), Home Work (2004), Builders of the Pacific Coast (2008), Tiny Homes (2012), and Tiny Homes on the Move (2014). Lloyd operates from Northern California studio built of recycled lumber, set in the midst of a vegetable garden, and hooked into the world via five Mac computers. You can check out videos (one with over 450,000 views) on Lloyd by doing a search on YouTube:

One Response to ORGANIZED SLIME: The Great Septic Rip-off of the 21st Century

  1. Yep, I live in Thurston County, Washington and because my working septic system is old and doesn't have all of the bells and whistles of having a updated drainfield, I get the pleasure of giving the permit people and a septic designer lots of money. Of course, no dye-trace was done nor a preliminary soil investigation for human pathogens. It's because my septic system is old!!! What are they going to do about people when they reach 20?, 30?, 40?, or 50?

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