The Septic System Guide to Protecting Your Water

The Septic System Guide to Protecting Your Water

A healthy and well-maintained septic system will help keep your local groundwater clean. With one in five Americans still relying on septic systems, regular maintenance of these systems is key to keeping the local groundwater clean. Not only can a failed system be a nasty mess in a yard, it can send some dangerous waste into your local groundwater, which for many homeowners leads directly to their own water source or well. Maintaining your septic system not only helps the longevity of your system but also keeps you and your family healthy. In this article, we will explain the basics of a septic system and how it affects local groundwater. We will also share our top tips to maintain a septic system so it’s working to protect your groundwater.

A septic system’s main purpose is to treat onsite wastewater. Traditionally, the process a septic system uses is done with gravity and the soil to help treat wastewater. The tank acts as a holding tank to let wastewater separate into a lighter scum layer, a middle clear effluent layer, and a heavy solid layer. A baffle leads from the middle of the tank to extract the clear effluent layer and send it into the drain field where it’s absorbed by the soil, treated naturally, and sent back into the local groundwater. Newer systems use filters, multiple tanks, and different materials, like sand, to further filter the wastewater so it’s cleaner when it reaches the drain field and gets absorbed into the soil. As you can see, having a good working septic system and drain field is key to making sure your local groundwater is as clean as it can be.

Pump Regularly
Pumping a septic system is a must when maintaining a healthy septic system. Over time the solids in the bottom of the tank can build up and leave the tank through baffle that’s meant to only extract the middle clear effluent level. With solids in the drain field, the drain field can become clogged and the soil can have a hard time treating the wastewater leading to less clean water entering the groundwater. Additionally, routine maintenance to check the system’s condition when pumping is a great step in maintaining a healthier system. During your regular pumping (every 3-5 years) you can have the septic professional check the baffles, lid, and tank to make sure all is in good condition. If the tank was to have holes or the lid was not watertight groundwater could infiltrate the system, causing the system to overflow. Regular pumping is the first step in protecting your local groundwater and system.

Thoughtful Landscaping & Site Planning
Many homeowners forget about their septic system when building additional buildings or planning the landscaping around their home. One of the most common ways a drain field can fail is if the structural integrity is compromised. Installing a driveway, driving over, or letting livestock graze over a system can add too much stress to the pipes and working parts below the surface. Keep all vehicles and livestock away from where the system is installed. Large trees nearby can be hazardous to a drain field with the hazard of root infiltration. We recommend planting only shallow root plants, like grass over a system to keep broken pipes and distribution boxes that make up the drain field to a minimum.

Detailed Septic System Inspections
Many states or local governments suggest an inspection every 3-5 years with a septic tank pumping. A septic system inspection will uncover all working parts of a system to check their condition. This can be extremely helpful to keep a system working well and producing clean water to go into local groundwater. However, depending on the local regulations this can be very extensive and costly. We recommend a septic inspection with every home sale and, if possible, every other pumping. At the very least a homeowner can ask the septic professional who pumps out the septic tank to uncover the first distribution box. By doing this the septic professional can get a look at what is being sent to the drain field, evidence of root infiltration or a failed drain field. Signs of these will be present in this first distribution box. We also recommend keeping records of septic tank pumping, system inspection, and any maintenance done, as this can be helpful to any homeowner diagnosing an issue or selling their home

When a septic system is healthy it will naturally work with the soil to produce clean water to distribute back into the local groundwater. Regular pumping, inspections, maintenance, and thought with landscaping are all great steps to take to ensure the system works and your groundwater is clean.

This article was originally published in March 2016 by Speedy Septic on the Angie’s List Experts Blog.