Public Health: Septic System Inspections/Permitting
Tarrant County Public Health
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{Tarrant County Public Health - Safeguarding Our Community}

Environmental/Consumer Protection

Septic System Inspections/Permitting

{Photograph of Wooden Fence in Field}

In an area growing as quickly as Tarrant County approximately 700 On-Site Sewage Facilities are permitted and inspected each year.  Technology has impacted the field of sewage disposal to the extent that only 15% of the systems installed today are the standard Septic Systems.  While cites provide centralized sewage collection and treatment to much of the county, there are still many areas that require on-site systems.  Tarrant County regulates the OSSF Septic Inspection / Permit process for 22 cities.

Many homes in Texas are connected to a public sewage treatment system. However, many thousands of families live in rural and sparsely developed suburban areas not served by a public system. Even in heavily populated areas the properly sited, designed, constructed, and maintained On-Site Wastewater Facilities (OSSFs) can provide an efficient and economical wastewater treatment alternative to public sewer systems.

It is vital that people who have OSSFs or plan to buy property that has or will have an OSSF understand the type of system, how it works and how to use and maintain it.

Who Inspects or approves On-Site Sewage Facilities?

The entire state is under the authority of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and they delegate authority to local governments. In Tarrant County the only authorized people are Tarrant County (we have contracts to do the work for most of the cities in the County), Tarrant Water Improvement District (only within 2000 ft of Lake Eagle Mountain) City of Arlington and the City of Fort Worth Lake Management in certain areas around Lake Worth.

What does an OSSF do?

Any sewage treatment facility must receive the wastewater and sewage from the source (a home, business, etc.) and dispose of it in a safe and sanitary fashion to prevent the spread of diseases or other negative health effects. Sewage consists of liquids and solids with liquids making up the majority. In its simplest form, a disposal system does two things 1) the solids are removed and 2) the liquids are disposed of by soaking into the soil or evaporating into the air. How well the solids are removed, how much liquid is left and how well the soil can dispose of the liquid are the vital criteria for determining the type of system to be used.

Do all systems dispose of liquids into the soil?

No. Some special designs and recent technology allow us alternatives. If it doesn’t go down into the ground it probably evaporates into the air. That is where technology can help by treating the water to a point where it can be disposed of at the surface.

I can flush my toilet, does that mean the system is working?

That is only one piece of a working system. After the sewage leaves the house, is it disposed of properly? Unfortunately, many people have had systems that “worked” only to find that the pipe ended in the creek and their sewage was creating a health hazard.

I can flush and no sewage comes out on the surface, is it working?

Those are two of the three factors that are needed for a standard septic system to be “working properly.” If there is groundwater very close to the bottom of the system or if there is a way for the sewage to reach the ground water (cracks of fissures in rock under the system) the system could still be polluting ground water.

How do I know what is happening underground, I can’t see where the sewage goes?

A lot of research has been done through the years that lets us understand what happens to the sewage once it enters the ground. Under current regulations, before any sewage is disposed of into the soil, tests must be performed that detail the soil conditions for at least two feet below the bottom of the disposal system. Unfortunately, a lot of older systems were put in without adequate knowledge, so it is difficult to tell.

How much land do I need to put in my sewage facility?

This is not an easy question to answer. Our experience shows that anything less than an acre can be difficult (that’s a recommendation, not a requirement). The general state minimums are 1 acre for land with a water well and sewage facility, or 1/2 acre for land with only a sewage facility. The size requirements of a piece of property apply when it is divided. If you have an existing piece of land smaller than the above, then you must submit a professional design showing how you can get a legal system on your property. No matter how big or how small, each piece of property will be evaluated individually. A person with 2 acres might not have enough if they have a well, stock pond, creek, big house, garage etc. Be sure to read the next question.

I’m splitting up a piece of land, how small can I make it?

If you will have On-Site Sewage Facilities, the state law has two possibilities: You will need one acre if you might have a well, or one half acre if you will only have a public water supply. However you must have enough land to meet the requirements for the system you need. Now to make it even more involved, cities can have requirements outside their city that may affect the minimum size. These city rules exist under the authority of Extraterritorial Jurisdiction. (ETJ). Most of Tarrant County is covered by Fort Worth's ETJ and they make it simple by requiring a minimum of one acre. Remember, old, existing, recorded property is treated on an individual basis.

What do I have to do to put in a system?

Basically, you get a site evaluation performed and submit the report with an application and fees. We will set the minimum specifications. Then you (or your installer) submits a plan, we approve it (hopefully), it gets constructed, we inspect it and you are done. For more details, in PDF format, see our OSSF Residential Application and our OSSF Nonresidential Application Procedure Sheets.

Who can install an On-Site Sewage system?

A state licensed installer or a homeowner, provided that it is a single family residence. For multi-family, rental property, or nonresidential property, the licensed installer is required. Click here for a copy of OSSF Rules and Regulations that you will need to follow.

I want to subdivide some land, who do I need to talk to?

If you are within a city, then that city will have authority. If you are in the unincorporated area of the County you will deal with the Health Department, Transportation Department, 817-884-1250, and if you are within the Extraterritorial Jurisdiction (ETJ) of a city, they will also be involved. Hint, Fort Worth's ETJ covers most of Tarrant County but call us if your are not sure.  The City of Fort Worth Development Department has an ETJ contact, Felicita Olivas, who can be reached at 817-392-8026 should you have any questions.

What is an aerobic system as compared to a septic system?

An aerobic system is different from a septic tank. In a septic tank, the bacteria use up any dissolved oxygen in the water and then get oxygen by breaking down the sewage. Septic means no dissolved oxygen and that the bacteria are making their own oxygen. At the same time they make other gases that smell, hence the characteristic odors. In an aerobic tank air is forced into the water and a whole different group of bacteria are able to exist. These aerobic bacteria don't give of the odors, are generally not as dangerous and do a much better job of “eating” the sewage solids. The effluent is much cleaner coming out of an aerobic system, but it is still not safe. Because it is cleaner, we can treat the effluent to kill any dangerous organisms and then dispose of the treated effluent in a variety of ways.

Can I dispose of aerobically treated effluent on the surface?

Not without some additional steps. If you use an approved unit (they are very thoroughly tested) and you add a disinfectant stage (probably a chlorinator) you can dispose of it on the surface of your property. The system must be designed for this purpose and it must have an on-going maintenance contract that includes periodic testing to be sure it is operating properly.

What should I do to maintain my septic tank?

You should 1) Make sure you don’t waste water, check for water leaks, don’t leave water running etc., 2) Don’t use the toilet as a trash can and minimize the use of a garbage disposal - if you can’t digest it neither can your septic tank, 3) Make sure you keep the disposal field free of excess runoff water, fill in low spots, redirect drain spouts etc., 4) Have the tank(s) pumped out every 2 to 5 years.

What about additives for the septic tank?

Don’t waste your time or money. People put yeast, cow manure, or various compounds bought at the store in their system, but they don’t do much of anything. Remember, every time you send waste to the tank you are sending bacteria. These bacteria have established a very concentrated mixture in the tank(s) and you aren’t going to change it easily. Any chemicals that are strong enough to change your system may cause damage or build up in the soil and cause long term problems.

What about additives for an aerobic tank?

Under no circumstances should you add anything other than standard household waste or manufacturer approved products. An aerobic tank is very carefully designed and chemicals or additives can completely destroy the bacterial culture that is the essential treatment element.

What is the Fee Schedule?

On-Site Sewage Facilities Fee
Application and Permit Fee (includes State fee)
OSSF - Loan inspection (existing systems)*
Water Well – Loan inspection
($ 35.00 does not include TCPHD Laboratory’s water testing fees)

*Limited by schedule availability.

Subdividing Land Requirements:

If you own property in Tarrant County and you wish to divide and develop it using On-Site Sewage Facilities (OSSFs) you will need to get the plat approved by the Public Health Department and the Transportation Services Department prior to it being approved by the Commissioners Court. State law requires that conditions be evaluated as to the suitability of the site if OSSFs are to be used. If you plan to use something other than an on-site system, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) will need to permit the treatment plant.

The rule requiring the review is listed in the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission rules relating to OSSFs:

Chapter 285 On-Site Sewage Facilities


(c) “Review of subdivision or development plans. Persons proposing residential subdivisions, manufactured housing communities, multi-unit residential developments, business parks, or other similar uses and utilizing OSSFs for sewage disposal must submit planning materials for these developments to the permitting authority. The planning materials must include an overall site plan, topographic map, 100-year floodplain map, soil survey, location of water wells, and complete report detailing the types of OSSFs to be considered and their compatibility with area wide drainage and groundwater. A comprehensive drainage and 100-year floodplain impact plan must also be included in these planning materials. Planning materials shall also address potential replacement areas. A response to the submitted planning material from the permitting authority will be provided within 45 days of receipt.”

If you do not have any floodplain designated on the property, a written statement to that effect will suffice. If you have floodplain questions, call the County Engineer at 817-884-1173.

We do not require that each individual lot have a site evaluation for overall development approval. Individual site evaluations are required when application for an OSSF is made. We do require that a representative sample be submitted. For example, if a plat is submitted for subdivision with 50 one-acre lots, we will probably require five (5) site evaluations, evenly distributed about the property. Additional evaluations may be required if the USGS Soil Survey indicates extremely variable soils.

It is very important to realize that nearly all of the unincorporated land in Tarrant County falls within the Extra Territorial Jurisdiction (ETJ) of existing cities. An ETJ is an area outside of a city’s limits where the city is allowed to require subdivisions to meet minimum city requirements. As such you must also be approved by the city that has ETJ authority. In Tarrant County, the cities of Azle, Crowley, Fort Worth, Haslet, Kennedale and Mansfield have ETJ areas. If you call our office, 817-321-4960, we can help you determine if this applies to your property and which city to contact.

To submit a development for Health Department review you will need the following items:

  • A letter describing the overall project and the type of development planned
  • Overall plan showing the layout and the dimensions of each lot (minimum lot size is one acre net after subtracting flood plain and drainage easements)
  • A topographic map
  • Any flood plain must be shown (If none is on the property, a written statement will suffice)
  • Representative site evaluations
  • Location of any existing water wells or OSSF's on, or within 100 feet of, the property
  • A description of how surface drainage problems will be handled (if applicable).

Send them to:

Tarrant County Public Health
Environmental Health Division
1101 South Main St., Suite 2300
Fort Worth, Texas 76104

Content Last Modified on 6/9/2014 1:07:22 PM

Tarrant County Public Health, Main Campus
1101 S. Main Street, Fort Worth, TX 76104

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