Septic Systems

Homes that are not connected to a centralized wastewater treatment plant or a municipal sewer system typically are served by their own septic system. This is often referred to as decentralized wastewater treatment, and when functioning properly can provide long-term, effective treatment of human and household waste. It is important to see these systems as not only serving a very critical function for your household, but also as an investment. They are costly to install and very costly to replace when things go wrong. However, when properly maintained, septic systems can function well for a very long time.

A failing septic systems are a threat to human and environmental health.Dangerous bacteria, viruses and high levels of nitrogen can be discharged to the groundwater table, which may lead to the contamination of groundwater, drinking wells that are down-gradient of the failing system. These same pollutants may be fed into nearby waterways by groundwater, resulting in pollutant discharge to streams, rivers and lakes used for fishing, swimming, boating, and recreation. Pollutants of this nature can lead to sickness, skin irritations, and can be harmful to aquatic life

So, what can you do to protect your investment and prevent failures leading to public and environmental health risks? It is helpful to first understand how your septic systems function.

Conventional septic systems rely on simple principles and components to work effectively:

1. Settling Tanks: Solids settle out in the tank while floating grease and scum rise to the top.

2. Absorption/Leach Field: Pipingfrom the thank transfers liquid waste to perforated pipes usually laid out like a fork over gravel beds. Liquid waste drains out of the pipes and into the underlying gravel and soil, where it is microbially degraded before reaching the groundwater table several feet below the system. A healthy community of microorganisms is critical to cleaning up this waste!

Additionally, use the following tips to care and maintain for your septic systems that lies in your own yard... and prevent it from failing:

  • Know where your septic leach field is in your yard:

You should never park or drive over your leach field or install any above-ground pool over your leach field. These activities may compact the soil needed for the treatment of waste and possibly destroy components of the system. Also never plant a tree or deep-rooting plant on or near the leach field.

  • Inspect and pump:

( If deemed necessary by a professional) at least every 3-5 years.

  • Reduce the amount of solids and grease that go down the drain:

To extend the life of your system this means that homes with septic systems should Not utilize a garbage disposal.

  • Avoid water-intensive activities:

For instance, avoid running the dishwasherand washing machine at the same time. Too much water entering the tank at once can re-suspend solids,which can clog your leach field. Similarly, making Monday WashDay can push so much liquid through the system that there is no time for settling. Instead, spread laundry times over the course of the week.

  • Avoid tank additives:

The use of additives containing yeast, enzymes, bacteria and solvents is not a proven method to helping a septic system perform.

  • Remember that a healthy population of microorganisms is the key to the treatment of your septic system.

Therefore, never put harsh chemicals down the drain. This includes pesticides, solvents, disinfectants, paint thinners and items mentioned below.

To avoid the public and aquatic health risk that may accompany failing septic systems, it is good to know the signs of a failing septic system. Has your septic system been inspected in the last three to five years? If not it is time to call a professional. Signs that failure has begun include toilets and drains backing up and not flushing completely, liquid is ponding over the leach field, unpleasant odors near the leach field, and waste water is seeping into the basement.

What should not go down the drain when you have a septic system.

  • Kitchen scraps Diapers
  • Paper towels Strong chemicals cleaners
  • Cat-litter Excessive bleach
  • Cigarette butts Pharmaceutical products
  • Oil-base paints Tampons and condoms

For additional advice on septic system care, maintenance and alternative options, consult your local health department. Southwest Utah Public Health Department at 620 South 400 East St. George, UT 84770 (435) 673-3528 www.swuhealth.org


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