Thursday, October 27, 2016

5 Counties Offer Financial Assistance in Maintaining Septic Systems

At the last housing census about 28% of Virginia households had septic systems. This is a bit higher than the average of 25% for all U.S. households. It is widely accepted, but not well documented that improperly managed septic systems contribute to major water quality problems. In 2003 EPA reported that 168,000 viral and 34,000 bacterial illnesses occur each year from drinking water contaminated by waterborne pathogens from fecal contamination due primarily from failed septic systems. Unfortunately, many homeowners are unaware of how septic systems work, what is necessary to maintain them, or lack the financial resources to properly maintain their systems.

Now for five counties in Virginia- Orange, Madison, Culpeper, Rappahannock and Green- financial assistance is available to all residents with septic system. Through a grant funded by the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District is offering financial assistance to all residents in their 5 county conservation district to pump septic tanks, fix septic system malfunctions and perform preventative maintenance. This program will reimburse participants who sign up before the work is done up to $150 for a septic system pump-out and 50% of any required repair or replacement expenses, including full system replacement. For low income households up to 75% of the cost of a septic system replacements or new installations can be reimbursed.
* up to 75%  is available for low income households

This money could allow residents in Orange, Madison, Culpeper, Rappahannock and Green counties to get their tanks pumped and septic systems repaired. Proper maintenance of septic systems (both traditional and alternative) is essential for protection of public health and local water resources and maintaining the value of your home. The regulations for septic systems are limited. For traditional systems located within a Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area once a system is built, the responsibilities for the owner are to have the system pumped out at a minimum every five years. However, there are no regulations that require the inspection of a traditional system, so you may not know your system is no longer functioning properly. For alternative septic systems called AOSSs there are more requirements including annual inspections. Here is a little tip, systems are less likely to back up into your basement or percolate out of the drain field if you pump them out frequently.

The drain field does not have an unlimited capacity. The more water your family uses, the greater the likelihood of problems with the septic system, so it is important to fix all leaks, and stop toilets from running and practice water conservation. In the Chesapeake Bay watershed many homes are within areas designated resource protected areas that requires a septic tank pump out at least every five years, but that may not be frequent enough depending primarily on the size of your tank, the number of people in the household contributing to the volume of your wastewater, the volume of solids in your wastewater and whether you use a garbage disposal or have a water treatment system. Excess water flow through the septic system can cause the solid sludge buildup and floating scum (grease, oil, dead skin cells, etc.) to flow out of the tank and travel into the leach field area. Some newer systems have screens and filters to keep solids from entering the leach field. These filters and screens become clogged and need to be cleaned out regularly or the system will back up into the house.

The septic tank is a buried, watertight container typically made of concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene. It holds the wastewater long enough to allow solids to settle out (forming sludge) and oil and grease to float to the surface (as scum). It also allows partial decomposition of the solid fecal materials. Anaerobic (without oxygen) digestion takes place with the aid of bacteria that came from human digestive tracks and most of the fecal solids are converted to carbon dioxide, water and other byproducts. The process is not completely efficient and fecal solids and other materials that find their way into the septic tank will accumulate over time. To keep a septic system operating optimally, a septic tank must be pumped every few years to remove the scum and solid layers. Steady use of water throughout the day and water conservation should be practiced because too large a flow of waste water and the solids in the tank will be stirred up and be carried out to the drain field.

If you are in the five counties of Orange, Madison, Culpeper, Rappahannock and Green and have a septic system call the Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District for more information at 540-825-8591 or 540-948-7531.

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