The privy’s days are numbered in Custer County

Brief by Central Staff

Rural Life – August 1997 – Colorado Central Magazine

In Custer County, the traditional privy is living on borrowed time — until the end of this year.

In 1994, the county commissioners agreed to ban outhouses, but gave property owners until the end of 1997 to comply.

The main reason for the ban was public health as the county’s population grows. Seepage from an isolated privy miles from anyone else might not bother anyone, but it could spread coliform and other bacteria if there’s a neighbor using a well only a few hundred feet away.

Peggy McIntosh, county zoning officer, estimated that as many as 200 privies remain in use there. Closing them is pretty simple, she said — pour three buckets of lime down the pit, and fill it with dirt.

Those who want to preserve historic structures, or who don’t have plumbing, have another option: replace the pit with a buried septic tank that has no outlet. The tank must have some way to let the owner know when it’s time to pump, and the privy must be fly-tight to prevent the spread of disease.

Some county residents opposed the ban, McIntosh noted, saying their outhouses were too remote to bother anyone. “That may be true in some isolated cases, but I can take you today to several outhouses that are literally hanging over creeks in Custer County.”