Septic, Maintenance, and Water Quality

Do you have a septic system?

You may already know you have a septic system, but it is surprising the amount of people who don't realize that their house is on septic and not sewer. If you do not know, here are tell-tale signs that you probably do:

  • You use well water.

  • The waterline coming into your home does not have a meter.

  • Your neighbors have a septic system.

Please don't assume that due to you receiving a bill from your water and sewer department means you are connected to the sewage line. Look closely at your bill, you may only be getting charged for receiving city water. 

How Your Septic System Works

Septic systems are underground wastewater treatment structures, commonly used in rural areas without centralized sewer systems. They use a combination of nature and proven technology to treat wastewater from household plumbing produced by bathrooms, kitchen drains, and laundry. 

A typical septic system consists of a septic tank and a drainfield, or soil absorption field.

The septic tank digests organic matter and separates floatable matter (e.g., oils and grease) and solids from the wastewater. Soil-based systems discharge the liquid (known as effluent) from the septic tank into a series of perforated pipes buried in a leach field, chambers, or other special units designed to slowly release the effluent into the soil.

Alternative systems use pumps or gravity to help septic tank effluent trickle through sand, organic matter (e.g., peat and sawdust), constructed wetlands, or other media to remove or neutralize pollutants like disease-causing pathogens, nitrogen, phosphorus, and other contaminants. Some alternative systems are designed to evaporate wastewater or disinfect it before it is discharged to the soil. (Source EPA.gov).

The EPA has information of the various types of septic system. In Butler County, the conventional system is the most common. 

View an animated, interactive model

View an animated, interactive model of how a household septic system works Created by the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority.

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Septic Maintenance: The Professionals

Regular maintenance fees of $250 to $300 every three to four years is a bargain compared to the cost of repairing or replacing a malfunctioning system, which can cost between $3,000 and $7,000. The frequency of pumping required for your system depends on how many people live in your home and the size of the system (Source: US EPA). A few signs that a septic system requires maintenance may include wastewater backing up into household drains, a strong odor around the septic tank and drainfield, and bright green, spongy grass appearing on the drainfield, even during dryer weather.

Find a Registered Septic Professional

What Is Typically Looked at During a Septic Inspection?

When you call a septic service provider, he or she will inspect for leaks and examine the scum and sludge layers in your septic tank. Your septic tank includes a T-shaped outlet which prevents sludge and scum from leaving the tank and traveling to the drainfield area. If the bottom of the scum layer is within six inches of the bottom of the outlet, or if the top of the sludge layer is within 12 inches of the outlet, your tank will need to be pumped. Remember to note the sludge and scum levels determined by the septic professional in your operation and maintenance records, as this will help determine how often pumping is necessary. The service provider should note any repairs completed and the tank condition in your system’s service report. If additional repairs are recommended, be sure to hire someone to make them as soon as possible.

Maintenance Checklist for Homeowners

Checklist provided by the US EPA

Home Sewage Treatment System Repair and Replacement Financing

The Ohio Water Pollution Control Loan Fund (WPCLF), in conjunction with local health districts and participating banks, can offer individual property owners reduced interest rates on bank loans to repair or replace failing home sewage treatment systems (HSTS), also known as on-lot systems or septic systems. This funding reduces the overall cost of the improvements for the property owner and helps insure effective wastewater treatment. Find out more...

Septic Care: What can you do to protect your system?
Care for your drainfield
  • Do not park or drive vehicles on any part of your septic system.

  • Make sure children's play structures and sand boxes are not placed over the drain field. 

  • Do not plant trees or shrubs over, or near, your septic system. The roots can damage the pipes and tank. The US EPA has provided a list of plants that can grow on, or near, a septic system.

  • Make sure downspouts and other drainage around your home are not directed towards the well field.

Don't treat your septic like a trash can​
  • It is also important to note that a septic system is not designed to treat oils and greases. It will solidify and can cause a septic tank malfunction.

  • Avoid garbage disposals, as they allow the addition of extra solids to your septic tank, which leads to your tank needing to be pumped more frequently. 

  • Do not flush non-degradable products, such as diapers, flushable wipes, cigarette butts, coffee grounds, cat litter, paper towels, pharmaceuticals, etc. 

 

Don’t Sterilize It!

Ensure the products you use in your home, such as dish soap and toilet paper are safe for septic systems. Beneficial bacteria are one of the keys to a healthy septic system; anything you put down the drain that kills bacteria also harms your septic system.

Limit Water Usage

Your septic tank can only handle a limited amount of water at once, as it needs time to separate the solids and liquids. Some ways to conserve water are:

  • Fix leaky toilets and faucets.

  • Install water efficient toilets, showerheads and faucet aerators

  • Don’t run continuous loads of laundry. Spread it out over a few days to give your tank a chance to recover.

Video: Maintenance of Septic Systems

Video created by Colorado Rural Water System

Video: Flushing Toilet Paper

Watch this video from the US EPA demonstrating why the only thing you should flush down your toilet is toilet paper.

Septic, Drainage, & Stormwater

Stormwater is water that comes from precipitation and ice/snow melt. This water can be relatively clean, or it can pick up a variety of contaminants, such as oil, gasoline, fertilizers, farm runoff, and other unhealthy pollutants. You don’t want any of these materials reaching the water table, the upper surface of our groundwater. Groundwater is where your drinking water comes from, whether you have your own private well, or your water comes from the local municipality. Although the mix of stormwater and pollutants might percolate through the ground and reach the water table by other means, the soil in your septic field is relatively loose. This loose material offers a pretty straight path to the groundwater around your home. By itself, that’s a very good reason to keep drainage out of your drain field! The US EPA has provided two helpful diagrams:

Septic & Drainage

Your septic system depends on good drainage in your septic field. Saturated soil won’t accept more water. If your septic field is soaked with rain water, your septic drainage has nowhere to go. Effluent from your septic tank might back up into the system, or it might pool on the ground in the septic field. Neither of those scenarios is desirable. In fact, they can be dangerous to your health, your home, and the long-term operation of your septic system. Managing stormwater is important to the general health of your septic field. It’s critical to know the location of your septic field.

  • You must also ensure that you direct stormwater runoff from your home and property away from your septic field.

  • Dry wells and rainwater catchment systems can help collect stormwater for local irrigation and ensure that large water volumes avoid your septic field.

Septic & Rain Events

During rain events, the drainfield may become too saturated for the wastewater to infiltrate into the soil.

  • Reduce water usage in your home. You've heard the saying if it's yellow, let it mellow. It's also better that you skip your shower than to experience a septic backup into your home. The average indoor water use in a typical single-family home is nearly 70 gallons per individual, per day. Just a single leaky or running toilet can waste as much as 200 gallons of water per day (US EPA). Efficient water use improves the operation of a septic system and reduces the risk of failure.

  • Routine maintenance of your septic system is required to remove the settled solids and maintain capacity to treat the wastewater.

  • As contradictory as it may sound, do NOT pump your septic system during times of flooding or saturated conditions. Hydrostatic pressure from the saturated soil can cause empty septic tanks to become buoyant and pop out of the ground. This can lead to costly damage of the inlet and outlet pipes and additional risk for you and your family.

Other Resources

Find a Registered Septic Professional

Butler County Health Department

Information including link to registered professionals

Ohio Department of Health

- Septic Systems: Has information for homeowners, contractors, soil scientists, and more

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency: Division of Surface Water

- Septic Systems: Has permit information, homeowner factsheets, and more

US Environmental Protection Agency: Septic Smart

Septic Smart has information for homeowners and technical resources. Site includes a lot of helpful videos

Miami Conservancy District: 

Fact Card

Butler Soil and Water Conservation District

Brochure: Septic Systems and Stormwater

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