What You Should Understand About the NC Septic System Permitting Process

The North Carolina septic system permitting process is comprised of two permits that must be applied for in sequence to the Local Health Department and a third permit that is issued after system installation and final inspection. Local Health Departments employ Environmental Health Specialists who are authorized to carry out these duties by the Department of Health and Human Services on behalf of the State. 

Private sector options including Licensed Soil Scientists, NC Authorized Onsite Wastewater Evaluators, and private consultants are available for citizens. They can provide a number of related services including soil, site evaluations, and septic permitting. 

NOTE: There may be additional changes or extenuating circumstances that apply to the situations below. Always call Rowan County Environmental Health with any questions regarding your unique situation. Environmental Health Specialists are available Monday - Friday from 8 AM - 9 AM for in-office meetings. Call 704-216-8525.

Improvement Permit (IP)

The first septic system application is for an Improvement Permit (IP).  Basically, this permit will indicate whether there is available soil and space on-site to support a particular type of septic system. If there is available soil and space on-site to support a particular type of septic system, then the IP will be granted to the applicant. If there is no available soil, limited available soil, and/or available space on-site to support a septic system, then the permit application will typically be denied. 

Denial of Improvement Permit

When an application for a wastewater system permit is denied, a letter is issued advising the applicant of the reasons for the unsuitable classification. The Environmental Health Specialist must include consideration of possible site modifications, and modified, experimental, innovative, accepted systems, components or devices, or alternative systems prior to denying the site.

Options after denial:

  1. Appeals
    • Informal: The applicant is offered any options that may be available for reclassification of the site. In addition the applicant may request, in writing, an informal review by the Rowan County Environmental Health Program Specialist, the Rowan County Environmental Health Department Manager, and also by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Regional Soil Specialist. 
    • Formal: A formal appeal for a contested case hearing requires that a petition be filed with the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) within 30 days of the date of the denial letter. More information on appeals may be found at the OAH website.
  2. Private Option
    • The applicant can contact a NC Licensed Soil Scientist (L.S.S) or NC Authorized OnSite Wastewater Evaluator (AOWE) for further evaluation regarding the feasibility of an innovative septic system on the site. Therefore, even though an IP may have been denied, there still may be septic system solutions available for the property.  A NC L.S.S. or an AOWE can advise as to what, if any, solutions might be possible for a site that has been denied an IP though there is no guarantee. 
    • The LSS or AOE may also issue an IP/CA of full AOWE Notice of Intent permit as they deem approvable. 

Construction Authorization (CA)

The second septic system permit application is for a Construction Authorization (CA).  This permit allows the septic system to be constructed and installed on the site.  Many times this permit can be granted at the same time the IP is granted, but not always. The CA permit is issued when the conditions required on the Improvement Permit and the Laws and Rules for Sewage Treatment and Disposal are met. The Construction Authorization contains conditions regarding system type, system layout, location, installation requirements, and maintenance and operation requirements. The Construction Authorization is valid for a period equal to the period of validity of the Improvement Permit and shall not exceed 60 months.

  1. Property Owner Responsibilities
    • The property owner is responsible for ensuring that the Construction Authorization is obtained and is valid prior to the construction, location, or relocation of a residence, place of business, or place of public assembly. The wastewater system contractor is required to install the wastewater system as specified on the Construction Authorization permit.
    • NOTE: There is an Existing System Release application process for an existing system on a property. Please be sure to discuss this with Environmental Health for this specific circumstance. 
  2. Revocations
    • A Construction Authorization may be revoked or suspended if the site has been altered, or the information submitted in the application is found to have been incorrect, falsified, or changed.

Operations Permit (OP) 

The third permit issued is the Operations Permit (OP). In essence, this permit allows the septic system to be placed into operation. Rowan County Environmental Health must view the installed system prior to the system components being covered with soil. This ensures that the system is installed according to the design and can be expected to reasonably operate. An Environmental Health Specialist completes a final system inspection and determines that all the conditions of the Improvement Permit, the Construction Authorization, and installed system are in compliance with the Laws and Rules for Sewage Treatment and Disposal Systems. Once the local health department has evaluated the installed system and are satisfied that the system has been installed properly, then the OP can be granted. The issuance of the Operation Permit is required prior to release of the Certificate of Occupancy (CO) by the building inspector.

The septic installer must call the health department for the final inspection to occur. 

  1. Conditions
    • The Operation Permit includes the conditions for system performance, operation, maintenance, monitoring, and reporting. Some septic systems such as low pressure pipes, peat filters, fixed media filters, and other pretreatment systems require contracts between the owner and a certified subsurface operator and/or wastewater operator to maintain and operate the system for as long as the use of the system is required.
    • Noncompliance of these requirements can results in permit suspension or revocation or other legal remedies as specified in the Rules.
  2. Validity 
    • An Operation Permit shall be valid and remain in effect for a system provided:
      1. The use of the facility remains unchanged
      2. The quantity and quality of the wastewater is unchanged
      3. No malfunction is found
      4. The conditions of the Operation Permit are complied with, and the Operation Permit has not expired
      5. Type V and VI Septic System Operations Permits expire 60 months after issuance and must be reapplied for.