This week is the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fourth annual SepticSmart Week to encourage the more than 26 million homeowners and communities with septic systems to properly maintain their septic systems.
When homeowners flush and don’t think about their home’s septic system, it can lead to system back-ups and overflows, surfacing sewage in your yard which can be expensive to fix, polluted local waterways, and risks to public health and the environment. Yet, Virginia like many states has struggled to get homeowners to consistently maintain their septic systems.
Homeowners fail to see or simply ignore signs that their septic systems may be failing, do not pump their tanks often enought and do not comply with inspection and maintenance regulation for alternative systems. While the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) holds meetings and struggles for solutions, the EPA launched the annual SepticSmart Week, to encourage homeowners to get “SepticSmart.”
The United States has made tremendous advances in the past 35 years to clean up our rivers and streams under the Clean Water Act by controlling pollution from industry and sewage treatment plants. In order to continue to make progress in cleaning up our rivers and streams EPA has turned their focus to controlling pollution from diffuse, or nonpoint, sources. Things like stormwater runoff and septic systems. According to EPA, these nonpoint source pollution are the largest remaining source of water quality problems. However, these are the most difficult sources of pollution to address, because eliminating them involves changing the behavior of millions of people. Unfortunately, we did not do enough to control pollution from diffuse, or nonpoint, sources- from our homes and living.
Non-point source contamination has always been under the oversight of the states, and the nature of the sources of this contamination make it very challenging for even state and local regulatory agencies to make any progress. More people need to understand their responsibility to control their own sources of nonpoint source pollution starting with the most basic maintenance and care of their septic systems.
Simply pumping out your septic tank would be a good start at reducing nonpoint pollution. EPA and the Virginia Department of the Environment (through the VDH) have struggled with the challenges of better management of septic systems. It is assumed that in Virginia a fairly rural state that at least a quarter of households use a septic system to treat their wastewater. Proper septic system care and maintenance is vital to protecting public health and preserving valuable water resources that provide drinking water to our rural residences and communities and the environment, but has been difficult to achieve.
Taking the steps recommended by the EPA for SepticSmart Week would be a great start at reducing nonpoint pollution of our waters. Homeowners can do their part by following these SepticSmart tips:
1. Protect It and Inspect It: In general, homeowners should have their traditional septic system inspected every three years and their alternative system inspected annually by a licensed contractor and have their tank pumped when necessary, generally every three to five years.
2. Think at the Sink: Avoid pouring fats, grease, and solids down the drain, which can clog a system’s pipes and drainfield.
3. Don’t Overload the Commode: Ask guests to only to put things in the drain or toilet that belong there. For example, coffee grounds, dental floss, disposable diapers and wipes, feminine hygiene products, cigarette butts, and cat litter can all clog and potentially damage septic systems. Flushable wipes are not flushable and do not break down in a septic tank.
4. Don’t Strain Your Drain: Be water efficient and spread out water use. Fix plumbing leaks, install faucet aerators and water-efficient products, and spread out laundry and dishwasher loads throughout the day and week. Too much water at once can overload a system if it hasn’t been pumped recently.
5. Shield Your Field: Remind guests not to park or drive on a system’s drainfield, where the vehicle’s weight could damage buried pipes or disrupt underground flow.