Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Maintaining my Alternative Septic System

On Tuesday I had the annual inspection of my Alternative Onsite Sewage System (AOSS) other wise know as my alternative septic system.  Statewide alternative septic regulations first went into effect in 2009 and ignoring a  60 day gap in 2011 have been in effect ever since.  So, as a homeowner with an alternative septic system in Virginia I need to be in compliance with the regulations. No excuses are accepted.

Alternative septic systems need to be inspected annually and maintained in accordance with manufacturer's recommendations and local and state laws.  Those who fail or refuse to comply with the mandatory rules and regulations face civil penalty regulations and fines, including but not limited to fines by VDH as well as their locality.  I have my system inspected every May.

If you should happen to own or purchase a home that currently has an alternative septic system as I do, you must have a licensed onsite system operator under contract or directly employed (“hire at will”) to maintain the system. In 2015 the regulations were amended to  increase the number of operators who could inspect these systems. This was done to bring down the contract costs.  

A Conventional Septic System consists of a septic tank, distribution box, and a leach field (some may refer to this as a “drain field”). That’s it, anything else and it is an alternative system. Conventional drain fields are usually installed when soil conditions are optimal (well draining soils that perc). The standards for the “perc test” were tightened when the alternative regulations we passed.

Alternative septic systems are anything that are not "conventional" systems.   There are numerous types of alternative septic systems (some common types include: Multi-flow, Advantex, Puraflo, and Bio-Microbics, are currently approved off the shelf examples) however all are designed to be used for difficult sites where soil and / or difficult terrain conditions  (limited soil percolation rate, rocky site, high ground water level, steeply sloped, limited site space, etc.).   

Under the regulations, the minimum site visit and sampling requirements for AOSS with flows less than 1,000 gallons per day (gpd) are:

  1. One routine inspection every 12 months
  2.  Have an operator collect any samples required which depends on date the system was installed;
  3.  Routine maintenance as prescribed in the system’s O&M manual.
  4.  Notification to homeowner of any remediation, if necessary, to return AOSS system to normal.

You should  understand whether your agreement includes reporting/record keeping, sampling, and required lab testing.    If you are under a contract agreement 9as I am), look to see if your contract includes an Emergency call option in the event of a failure or unexpected problem / repairs; an Emergency call usually does not apply on a “hire at will” basis (non-contract). Make sure that the information is uploaded to the VDH site. 

Mr. Mike Thomas Sr. from SES checking my sludge level in my tanks

Mr. Thomas is checking the volume flow, blower and zoner

I also need to comply with the onsite sewage system requirements contained in local ordinances for the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act (§ 10.1-2100 et seq. of the Code of Virginia) and the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area Designation and Management Regulations (9VAC10-20) when an AOSS is located within a Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area. Basically, this requires that my septic tank be pumped every three years.

My system was approved and installed in 2004 and that system  is no longer listed as approved for new system installs.  The design has multiple tanks and a blower for an ATU tank which as not proved to be reliable. The result is that I am routinely replacing the blower unit. Fortunately, it alarms when it fails. Annoying, but helpful.

Some newer alternative systems require sampling. Laboratory sampling is not required for any small AOSS with an installed soil treatment area that is sized for septic tank effluent and complies with the requirements of 12VAC5-610 for septic tank effluent. In addition to regular maintenance and inspection, all systems installed after April 7, 2010 and whose systems have a secondary treatment and is not exempted by the above statement are required to have a grab sample of sludge taken and analyzed for BOD and, if disinfection is required, fecal coliform once every five years. Systems installed before April 2010 are grandfathered and do not require sampling.

My contract with my service company has them file the paperwork with the state and send me written confirmation of what needs to be done. This year, my service company told me that it is time to pump two tanks. Everything else seems to operating normally.

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