JEFFERSON — New state rules for home sewage treatment that took effect in January make quick action a must for Ashtabula County residents interested in building or replacing a septic system this year, according to the county health department.

Beginning this year, the Ohio Department of Health requires an expert soil and site analysis, as well as a system design, before a local permit can be issued, said Ray Saporito, health commissioner. Soil scientists are in scarce supply in northeast Ohio, and landowners should make an appointment as soon as possible for a septic project that needs to be completed in 2015, he said.

“The whole objective is to remind people that they really don’t want to delay,” Saporito said.

There are no soil scientists based in Ashtabula County, Saporito said. Some can be found in Trumbull and Geauga counties, he said. As a result of the new guidelines, soil scientists are seeing their schedules fill very fast.

“Recently, one certified soil scientist who has done extensive work in Ashtabula County reported he has a backlog of at least two months for site and soil evaluations,” Saporito said. “There is also an additional wait (for) home sewage treatment system designers.”

Complicating matters for 2015 projects is a relatively short weather window to install septic systems in the county. The long winter season, coupled with wet weather in the spring and fall, usually limits work between May and October, Saporito said.

Landowners who get a jump on the process also stand a better chance of avoiding delays in obtaining their county permits, he said.

People who obtained system permits or a site evaluation in 2014 do not need a soil/site analysis or a system design, Saporito said. Last fall, the county warned of the new state regulations, and plenty of local landowners heeded the call. The county conducted 290 site evaluations in 2014, and Saporito estimates a third of those inspections occurred within the final several weeks of the year.

A list of soil scientists in the region is available from the county health department or on the Association of Ohio Pedologists website, Saporito said.

The regulations, four years in the making, reflect the increased role soil plays in the septic process, Rebecca Fugitt, program manager with the ODH’s Residential Water and Sewage, said Friday. A design customized to the site helps soil become a better “biological” and “mechanical” filter, she said.

“The old rules didn’t consider the soil,” Fugitt said. “(Landowners) are using the soil for treatment, and for soil to effectively do treatment, it needs certain characteristics.”

Under the new rules, septic systems will generally be shallower and narrower to maximize their efficiency, Fugitt said. Cost of new systems shouldn’t jump because of the regulations, and just about any parcel with the minimum space requirements can be fitted for a system, regardless of soil, she said.