Dangers lurk in improperly working septic systems

Dangers lurk in improperly working septic systems


Unless there’s some type of problem, septic tanks aren’t something people often think about. But avoiding those problems before they arise can save you money (making repairs before they become more costly), and avoid polluting the water the Brazos River basin depends on. As we mark SepticSmart Week Sept. 17-21, it’s time to think about why it even matters to have such a week, and how it affects you.

Even if you don’t have a septic system of your own, it’s interesting to note that at least 20 percent of American homes do. The percentage is much higher in rural areas and suburbs. Properly treating household waste is crucial to protecting people’s health and to promoting water quality throughout the basin and the state.

For those who do have septic tanks, the Environmental Protection Agency marks the third week of September as a time to make sure your septic system is working correctly – or to have an expert check it for you. Not only can doing this help you catch small problems before they turn into big ones, it also helps prevent the spread of waterborne illnesses caused by leaking systems.

When they are correctly planned, designed, located, installed, operated and maintained, septic systems can provide reliable and efficient wastewater treatment. However, systems that exceed the capacity or those which are poorly designed, installed, operated or maintained can cause problems.

In the Brazos River basin, the Brazos River Authority has partnered with state and local stakeholders to help reduce the level of contaminants in the water from sources that include faulty septic systems. These efforts have included the Lake Granbury Watershed Protection Plan and the Leon River Watershed Protection Plan. These plans are coordinated efforts involving the BRA and other interested parties to address pollution concerns. In both of these WPPs, contamination of water via faulty septic systems was among the issues contributing to pollution in the watershed.

Contamination of surface waters and groundwater with disease-causing organisms are the most serious threat posed by faulty septic systems. Other problems include excessive nitrogen discharges to sensitive coastal waters and phosphorus pollution of inland surface waters, which increases algae blooms, in turn causing low dissolved oxygen concentrations. Contamination of important shellfish beds and swimming beaches by pathogens is a concern in some coastal regions.

Those who have septic systems can play a key role in helping to keep the watershed clean.

The biggest thing you can do if you have a septic system is to ensure it is working properly. The EPA has a list of 10 things you can do to ensure your septic system is working right.

  • Have your system inspected every three years by a qualified professional, or according to your state and local health department’s recommendations.
  • Have your septic tank pumped, when necessary, every three to five years.
  • Avoid pouring items such as oils, grease, chemicals, paint or medicine down the drain.
  • Keep cars and other heavy vehicles parked away from the drain field and the tank.
  • Follow the system manufacturer’s directions when using septic tank cleaners and additives.
  • Repair leaks and use water efficient fixtures to avoid overloading the system.
  • Maintain plants and vegetation near the system to ensure roots do not block drains.
  • Use soaps and detergents that are low suds, biodegradable and low phosphate or phosphate-free.

More information about septic systems for Texas residents can be found here.