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Procedure for Obtaining a Construction Permit and Certificate of Completion for an Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (OWTS)

You need a permit from the Tompkins County Health Department (TCHD) before you can construct a new onsite wastewater treatment system (OWTS) in Tompkins County or make repairs to an existing system. The basic steps are:

  1. Submit your OWTS construction permit application and fee.
  2. In coordination with TCHD, conduct a site and soil investigation.
  3. TCHD issues the construction permit.
  4. Install your system in accordance with the permit.
  5. TCHD inspects the system before it is covered.
  6. TCHD issues the Certificate of Completion allowing the system to be put into use.

Instructions For Submitting an OWTS Construction Permit Application

  1. The applicant must complete the application for an OWTS Construction Permit (online or a paper copy). If a current survey map is available, please submit it with the application. Fees must also be submitted at the time of application. An incomplete application will be returned to you. If you need help, please call us at (607) 274-6688 or contact us by email at
  2. If the lot is part of an approved subdivision, attach a copy of the approved lot plan if available. The services of a professional engineer may be required if major changes were made to the site when compared to the original approval.
  3. Return the application to the Tompkins County Health Department with the permit fee. (OWTS fees are noted on page 2.) No action will be taken by the Health Department until the fee is paid.
  4. The applicant or contractor must call the Health Department at (607) 274-6688 to arrange for a site inspection and deep hole soil test (see below). We try to make appointments within one week for undeveloped lots or building conversions, and within 48 hours for replacement systems.
  5. If possible, the applicant should meet the inspector on site. If not possible, stake out the four corners of the proposed building location and mark the proposed well location if applicable. Indicate the lot location by placing a sign or marker visible from road to aid the inspector in locating the property.

Soil Tests

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1. Deep Hole

  1. The initial soil and site visit will be a deep hole soil test. This hole must be dug with a backhoe. The hole must be dug in the presence of a TCHD inspector. An investigation of the depth to the water table, rock and hard pan will require a test hole to a depth of 6 feet in most cases.
  2. Pending results of the deep hole soil test, percolation tests may be required.
  3. All test holes must be properly protected to prevent accidents and must be refilled after the inspection.

2. Percolation Test Holes

  1. Only when advised by your inspector, prepare three (3) holes that are each one (1) foot square, with a depth of 24 inches, 30 feet apart, in a triangle in the area of the proposed absorption trenches. Keep at least 100 feet away from any well area or stream, including those on adjoining lots. The 24 inch deep percolation holes MUST be dug with a hand shovel, NOT a backhoe.
  2. The inspector may require hand-dug holes of different depths.  This will be communicated to you at the time of the deep hole investigation. 
  3. Scratch the sides and bottom of the test holes to restore any smeared soil surfaces. This improves the test's accuracy.
  4. Remove all loose material from the holes and presoak the holes the day before the test by filling to the top with water and allowing it to seep away.
  5. During heavy rain or freezing weather, cover each test hole with plastic, plywood, or similar material so that the holes are not flooded with additional water.
  6. Have containers of water available at the site. A minimum of five (5) gallons of water is needed for each percolation test hole.
  7. These test holes may prove to be unnecessary depending on the soil profile observed in the deep hole.

Constructing The System in Accordance With The OWTS Permit

  1. After the site assessment and field investigation is completed, the Health Department will issue the OWTS Construction Permit. These are sent to you by email unless you request a copy by mail.
  2. This two-page OWTS Construction Permit gives you the legal permission to build or modify your OWTS and it is the technical document that you or your contractor must use as the construction plan.  The permit details the dimensions and the specifications of the materials that will be used to construct the system. The permit can be used to obtain quotes for the cost of construction.
  3. The first page of the permit describes
    1. exactly who, where and when the permit is being issued,
    2. the type of sewage system to be installed,
    3. the components and dimensions of the system, and
    4. provides a link to additional specifications that must be followed. These detailed OWTS Specifications for system components are available on our website. Paper copies of these specifications are available upon request.
  4. The second page of the permit contains a site drawing of the system and a list of the conditions of construction for the system.  Specific OWTS specifications that apply to your system will also be identified.
  5. If you have any questions about the installation of the system, please call our office at (607) 274-6688 and ask before you do the work. 

Procedure For Obtaining A Certificate Of Completion

  1. Construction of the system must be in accord with the construction permit.
  2. Arrange for final inspection of the system prior to covering any part of the installation. At least 24 hours notice is required for final inspection appointments from the Health Department.
  3. The Health Department will conduct a final inspection of your OWTS and it is not to be placed into operation before this inspection is conducted, the system is approved, and a Certificate of Completion is issued by the Health Department.  For new construction, the building may not be occupied prior to issuance of the Certificate of Completion.
  4. The property owner of the approved installation will receive a Certificate of Completion by email or a hard copy by mail upon request.

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