Septic systems are not a sexy topic, nor usually the stuff of dinner conversation.

But when the rules that govern them are changed, people should be talking about them a lot and making sure the rules protect the property owner’s investment, as well as the public health and environment.

That’s why it’s disturbing that Bonner County commissioners recently decided to exclude the Panhandle Health District  (PHD)  –  which regulates septic systems in North Idaho –  from the review of building location permits before they are issued.

During the review, the health district makes sure that the site plans leave adequate room for drain fields, which are a critical component of a septic system. Improperly sized or designed systems can pose a risk to groundwater and surface water –  and neighboring wells.

Lora Whalen, PHD’s director, told the commissioners at their June 21 business meeting that up to 20 percent of the building location permits they review need to be changed to accommodate a septic system.

Also attending the meeting were representatives of area sewer districts, which also will no longer have automatic review of the permits. One sewer district board member warned the county that the upfront reviews avoid costly changes later.

Nonetheless, the commissioners moved ahead with their decision to cut the health and sewer districts out of the review process.

This is the latest in a trend toward deregulating building and land use in Bonner County with little to no public input.

The commissioners earlier this year changed their procedures for revising land use codes, eliminating the need for public hearings before the planning commission or the county commission, except in certain circumstances.

The county now is moving ahead with changes to the subdivision ordinance to make it easier to subdivide property into 10 or fewer lots. Due to the new, streamlined process, the county’s planning commission (which deals with planning and zoning issues on a regular basis), will not hold  a hearing or workshop on the proposed changes. However, the county commissioners did schedule a public hearing for 1 p.m. Aug. 4 on the newest proposed changes.

While this is better than no public hearing, we remain concerned that major decisions affecting all residents of Bonner County are getting little scrutiny in the interest of streamlining and easing regulations for individual property owners.