Updated July 6, 2022
DHEC has had a significant increase in the number of permit applications for septic tanks, also called onsite wastewater systems. This has led to the agency currently having, as of the end of June 2022, about 3,000 pending permit applications. At this time, it’s taking up to 18 weeks to process septic tank applications from the time the application is deemed complete, and the site is prepared by the applicant for evaluation. Applications are processed on a first come, first serve basis.
We recognize that this has significant implications for those building or siting a home on a piece of property, and we regret the impact these delays are having. DHEC is working to reduce these delays as quickly as possible.
DHEC is responsible for issuing a septic tank permit before a septic tank can be installed. This helps ensure that a septic tank, also known as an onsite wastewater system, can successfully operate at a proposed site for the proper treatment and disposal of domestic wastewater. Improperly handled wastewater could make people sick or harm the surrounding environment. Once permitted and properly installed, the proper maintenance of a septic tank is the responsibility of the property owner.
There are two main factors contributing to this current workload:
- Rapid residential growth and land development around the state has significantly increased the number of septic tank applications submitted to DHEC. In 2010, DHEC received 7,456 applications. This number more than doubled in 2021 when DHEC received 17,256 applications. Since Jan. 1, 2022, DHEC has received more than 9,700 applications. Based on this, DHEC expects to receive more than 19,000 applications in 2022.
- Current staffing levels are unable to keep up with the increased demands. The program has been impacted by a high turnover rate and limited workforce availability. The program’s current vacancy rate is 35 percent.
How You Can Lessen Your Wait Time
Follow these steps to help prevent or reduce delays:
- Submit a complete application. See the application packet for assistance.
- Post both septic and site location cards in the right locations.
- Clearly indicate the property lines.
- Clearly indicate the four corners of the residence.
- Ensure the property is accessible. This includes clearing underbrush, thick vegetation, and any other features that may inhibit the site evaluation.
Please be aware that if the soil is too wet, DHEC may not be able to do a proper evaluation. Soil evaluations may have to be delayed until the soil has had time to dry out which adds to the time it takes to issue your permit.
There are four options for obtaining a septic tank permit:
- Option 1: Apply through DHEC’s traditional permitting process using the Septic Tank Permits, Licenses and Reports webpage. Once your application has been received, DHEC will contact you to confirm receipt of your application and to discuss payment options and any missing information.
- Option 2: Hire both a private Professional Soil Classifier and Licensed Professional Engineer to evaluate the site and design a system consistent with SC Regulation 61-56, Onsite Wastewater Systems. An application, Onsite Wastewater Soil Report Verification Form, and septic system design must then be submitted to DHEC. The S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (LLR), provides resources to help you find a Professional Soil Classifier and a licensed Professional Engineer. This option should reduce the amount of time that it takes to process your application.
- Option 3: Hire a private Professional Soil Classifier to conduct a soil evaluation on the site and provide a system layout. An application including the system layout and an Onsite Wastewater Soil Report Verification Form must then be submitted. This option should reduce the amount of time that it takes to process your application.
- Option 4: Hire a private Professional Soil Classifier to conduct a soil evaluation on the site. An application and certified soil report must then be submitted to DHEC. The professional soil classifier will also need to complete an Onsite Wastewater Soil Report Verification Form and submit it along with the application. This option should reduce the amount of time that it takes to process your application.
Actions DHEC is Taking
DHEC is taking several steps to help reduce the extended processing time, including:
- Hiring staff to create a customer service office specifically for the septic tank program to assist applicants throughout the permitting process. This will speed up the process by relieving field staff of administrative work allowing them to be in the field more.
- Requiring developers to seek permits for 10 or more lots from a private company. This requirement is made possible by the July 1 regulation change.
- As applications are received and deemed complete, special consideration will be given to applicants considered disadvantaged and unable to obtain services with higher costs from a third party.
- Actively recruiting and hiring staff to support this program. Current job postings and details are available at scdhec.gov/careers.
Additional information and resources about septic tanks, including care and maintenance tips, are available at scdhec.gov/septictanks.