Property owners learning rules around septic tanks the hard way as landfill halts access

Ron Nugent says he figures his septic tank is just days away from overflowing. And like many others who are in a similar situation, he says he's coming to realize no one is coming to help.

"I'm losing sleep over it. My stress level is high. I'm nervous about flushing my toilets. I've instructed my family to take two-minute showers," he says.

"This should not be a problem," he adds. "This problem is created for some unknown reason I don't comprehend."

Nugent's septic tank is under the deck at his waterfront property in Wellington, near Fall River.

Nugent's septic tank is under his deck at his waterfront property in Wellington near Fall River.
Ron Nugent's septic tank is under his deck at his waterfront property in Wellington, near Fall River. (Preston Mulligan/CBC)

The problem started when GFL West Hants Landfill advised private septic haulers from the Halifax area that as of June 14, they can no longer accept septic waste.

GFL didn't respond to requests for an interview.

But private septic haulers like Gerrett Murphy, who runs Affordable Septic Services in Lucasville, say the landfill has been operating above capacity.

"They're having problems processing the volume of waste that they're getting," Murphy says. "It means that we're dead in the water. We have nowhere to pump or nowhere to dump, and I can't take anymore until I have a place to bring it to process it."

Murphy says he used to empty his truck at a lagoon on the GFL site.

"Now they have this processing plant and they're having an issue with the capacity going through. It was supposed to be able to handle it, but it can't. So they have to cut their capacity for a while till they get it figured out."

In the meantime, he says he's getting calls from stressed homeowners and business owners.

"We have customers calling that have closings on a home sale and the tank has to be pumped out before the sale can be finalized," Murphy says. "Everybody's in a big panic."

Gerrett Murphy who runs Affordable Septic Services in Lucasville
Murphy says he has customer calling him 'in a big panic.' (Preston Mulligan/CBC)

While he waits for word from GFL, homeowners like Nugent say they are desperately looking for a solution before their system backs up inside their homes.

What he'ss learning is that his septic tank is his responsibility, he says, with no help coming from the municipality or the province.

The provincial Department of Environment and Climate Change sets the rules about how septic tanks are installed. But when it's full, it's up to property owners to find a private hauler to pump it out.

"Our city councillor is advising me that it's a private thing," Nugent says. "I think homeowners should really be aware of that. I wasn't aware of it. The only reason I'm aware of it now is because I'm in the situation."

A spokesperson from the Department of Environment says their office is aware of the problem.

"We are supporting HRM and Halifax Water to find solutions for the haulers and their customers," the department said in a statement. "For example, we reached out to septage disposal facilities to see who has the capacity to take septic waste and shared this information with the haulers.

"Longer-term, municipalities and the private sector can both create and operate more septage disposal sites if they feel there is increased market demand."

Halifax Water isn't required to accept third-party waste. However it does have an existing program to accept some from private septage haulers.

Officials there say adding any more risks putting the operation beyond its capacity.

Halifax Coun. Pam Lovelace posted a list of haulers on Facebook that are permitted to pump septage into Halifax Water's Aerotech facility, near Goffs. They are:

  • A To Z Septic Services Limited.

  • Atlantic Industrial Services / Envirosystems / now known as GFL Terrapure.

  • Clean Earth Industrial Services (now part of GFL as of Jan 2024).

  • Conrad's Septic Tank Service.

  • E & S Septic Services.

  • Grounded Property Services.

  • Honey Huts.

  • Jacks Expert Flush & Toilet Rentals.

  • Royal Flush Services Limited.

  • Simply Septic.

  • Underdog Septic & Environmental Services.