This year’s National Septic Smart is September 18-22, 2017. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses a week in September each year to focus on improved awareness of proper operation and maintenance of septic systems across the United States. The wastewater of approximately 25% of the population of the United States is treated by on-site or individual wastewater systems. In Nebraska that statistic holds consistent with approximately 25% of our state’s population being served by onsite wastewater systems on farms, acreages, suburbs and even some small communities.
Septic systems are the most common type of onsite system utilized throughout the state. Certified professionals install a system or perform regular larger scale maintenance or repairs. But the individual homeowner is the key person for ensuring that their septic systems performs as it is designed to prevent damage to property and to protect critical water resources. Wastewater carries pathogens, nutrients, bacteria, organic matter and other chemicals that are harmful to human health and water resources if left untreated. Septic systems are designed to use naturally occurring aerobic and anaerobic bacteria to digest nutrients and organic matter within the tank and then allow soil to perform its natural “filter” action to continue to remove or hold the majority of potential contaminants before they continue into groundwater resources. However, like most things “too much of anything can be a bad thing”, so it is incumbent on the homeowner to do their part to help septic systems do their jobs.
Here are some ways that homeowners can “be septic smart”:
“Think at the sink”
The drains in your house can look like easy and quick ways to dispose of any liquid within your house but they can introduce toxins that will kill the organisms in your tank working to digest and treat household waste.
- Don’t pour cooking oil or grease down the drain.
- Use boiling water or a drain snake to open clogged drains instead of chemicals.
- Paints, solvents or large quantities of chemical based cleaners should never be poured down the drain.
- Reduce or eliminate the use of your garbage disposal. The garbage disposal introduces small particles of food as well as oils or grease that can change the stratification of the layers within your septic tank. Consider composting instead.
“Don’t overload the commode”
- The toilet is also another inviting place to dispose of items that can damage your septic system or cause it to fail.
- An easy rule of thumb to remember is to never flush anything—liquids or solids--besides human waste or toilet paper.
“Don’t strain your drain”
Average water use for each person in the United States is 75 gallons per day. That amount of water is used to calculate the size of your septic system components to allow it to function as it should to treat wastewater. Conserving water in the house means there is less water entering the septic system which reduces the risk of the system failing and improves the operation of the septic system.
Many technological advances have been made that increase water use efficiency of appliances and fixtures within your house. Some examples of water efficient products include:
- High efficiency toilets use 1.6 gallons of water or less per flush instead of 5 gallons of water per flush in old toilets.
- High efficiency showerheads reduce water use from 2.5 gallons of water per minute to a maximum of 2.0 gallons of water per minute.
- “Energy Smart” washing machines use 50 percent less water than standard models. (Also remember to spread washing machine use out through the week and select the appropriate load size).
“Shield your field”
The drainfield removes contaminants from the water that discharges from the septic tank by dispersing the liquid across a relatively large area of soil and allowing the soil to complete the job of filtering most of the remaining contaminants before the water reaches clean water resources.
Protecting your drainfield is relatively easy by ensuring that you:
- Don’t drive or park on your drainfield which can damage the laterals that are dispersing the water across the area.
- Only plant trees or shrubs with large root systems a safe distance from the drainfield. Roots can damage or clog the laterals causing the system to fail.
- Make sure you direct stormwater or other drainage away from your drainfield to ensure the additional water flow doesn’t impact the wastewater treatment process.
“Protect it and inspect it”
Proper care of your system happens on a day-to-day basis with the practices listed above but periodic inspection and maintenance by a certified professional will still be necessary.
Set a regular schedule to have the system inspected and pumped.
Keep all records including system location and design, registration, inspection results, maintenance dates, and repairs.
One final consideration is to not forget about your drinking water well—the other half of your individual water system. Make sure you test your drinking water regularly and are practicing good wellhead protection habits.
Take some time this month to think about how you are caring for your septic system and how you can “do your part, be septic smart”. To find out more information about Septic Smart week and septic systems visit: epa.gov/septic or water.unl.edu.