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Photos from Big Creek Lake Appreciation Day (6-2-2012)

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Proper Care and Operation of a Septic System (2-24-2012)

In these days of challenging economic times, homeowners are especially aware of protecting the assets that make our homes function.  One of these important, and costly, assets involving our homes is the septic system.  The typical new septic system costs between $ 4,000 and $ 15,000, necessitating that we operate and care for it in the best way possible. Operated and cared for properly, these systems can last in excess of thirty years.  If poorly cared for, they can fail in as little as three to five years.  The typical hazards to septic systems are relatively few, but unfortunately common to the typical household.  Mainly, these hazards consist of 1) a lack of maintenance, 2) disposing of improper material or 3) overloading.  So, let’s address these one by one:

1)       Lack of Maintenance.  All septic systems will require some maintenance.  The most often neglected maintenance areas are the failure to pump out the system every 3 to 5 years (depending on use) and failure to clean the outlet filter (if equipped).  A system that is not pumped out will eventually clog and backup into the home or to the surface of the ground in both cases creating a health hazard.  Systems that are neglected do not allow proper settling of organic solids in the septic tank.  These solids can pass through the tank and eventually clog up the secondary treatment (lateral or sand filter etc) system.  An outlet filter is installed in most septic systems installed after 2002.  These filters are located in the septic tank and prevent the solids from passing through the tank into the secondary treatment system.  Outlet filters should be rinsed off (into the tank) twice each year (once in spring, and once in the fall) to keep them from clogging during normal operation.  If your system does not have an outlet filter, consider having one installed to help protect your system and extend its useful life.

2)       Disposing of Improper material.  Thishazard can create long-lasting problems for your septic system.  Materials like cat litter, discarded smoking materials, and liquids like oils, paints and varnishes and solvents can pass through the septic tank and into the secondary treatment system.  Once these materials get into the soil, they obstruct the soils ability to absorb water and can cause a system to clog and backup.  If your septic system is a discharging system, these materials can pass through the system and into the ground water creating a hazard for aquatic life, local well users and the environment in many different ways.    The only materials that should be flushed down the toilet or through the plumbing system is ordinary human waste and toilet paper.  Authorities even recommend that you restrict the use of garbage disposals on a septic system as this organic material can overload a system causing eventual failure.

3)       Overloading.  Septic systems treat wastewater with natural occurring bacteria in the soil.  These bacteria require a supply of oxygen (aerobic bacteria) and remove the harmful bacteria in the wastewater as the water absorbs down through the soil.  Systems can be overloaded by excessive water use, leaking toilets and other fixtures, and by the addition of ground water from sump pumps, leaking septic tank lids, or improper drainage lf the land area over the septic system.  Overloading a system cuts off the necessary supply of oxygen to the good bacteria in the soil when the soil becomes saturated.  These good bacteria eventually die off allowing anaerobic bacteria to take over.  As the anaerobic bacteria take over, they create a biomat that slows down treatment and eventually clogs the system causing failure.

Fortunately, maintenance for all of these things is simple and relatively inexpensive.  Paying a little attention to these items now, can save you lots of money in costly repairs or system replacement and extend the life of your septic system.

One Response to Blog

  1. Pingback: Big Creek Lake Appreciation Day « Iowa Learning Farms

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