Lake Singletary Watershed Association
Dedicated to the Preservation and Protection of Lake Singletary and its Watershed
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Complete Septic System Guide
Septic System Guidelines
Maintenance of septic systems is often forgotten because they are underground and "out of sight and out of mind".
Our Lake Management Plan lists nutrient influx into our lake as the major water quality concern. The plan goes on to identify inadequate or malfunctioning septic systems around our lake as the primary source of this nutrient influx.
Properly designed, constructed and maintained septic systems pose little threat to the environment and human health. However, improperly functioning systems pose a contamination risk to groundwater and our lake. A marginal septic system is more likely to contribute poorly treated sewage to our lake. Disease-causing organisms found in this wastewater can cause dysentery, cholera, typhoid and hepatitis A. Improperly treated nitrates can contaminate drinking water in nearby wells and lead to illness in humans, including blue baby syndrome, which affects an infant’s ability to carry oxygen in their blood. Other nutrients, primarily phosphorous, can promote algae and weed growth in our lake.
Assuming you have a properly designed and functioning septic system, the following information is an overview of system function, use and recommended maintenance.
Waste material from the house enters the septic tank and heavier solids settle to the bottom of the tank and form a sludge layer. Lighter household wastes such as oil and grease rise to the top of the tank and form a scum layer. Between these two layers is the liquid wastewater sometimes called effluent. When combined waste enters the tank, bacteria breaks down the solid materials. This break down dramatically reduces solids, but still leaves a residue behind in the tank. The center liquid layer flows slowly from the tank through a distribution box and out into “fingers” of a drain or leach field where the treated liquid wastewater is filtered through gravel or crushed rock back into the soil. The soil under the drain field then acts as the final filter for the wastewater before it goes
back into the groundwater.

  • Have your septic tank pumped out by a licensed operator every 2 to 3 years. (more often if you use a garbage disposal)
  • Have the operator check to be sure there is a tee or baffle in place on the outlet of the septic tank.  The baffle or tee stops the scum layer from entering the drain field.
  • Check with a licensed engineer if you are having problems. They can assist you with
  • operation, maintenance and design questions.
  • Learn the location of your septic tank, drain field and well. Keep a sketch of it along with your septic maintenance records for service visits.
  • Divert sources of clean water, like downspouts from roof drains, house footing perimeter drains and sump pumps away from your systems drain field area. Excessive water floods the system, flushing the tank too quickly before the bacteria can break down solids and saturating the drain field rendering it ineffective. Also limit the amount of water entering your system by using water-saving faucets, showers and toilets.
  • Take leftover household chemicals to an approved collection center for disposal. Use bleach disinfectants, and toilet bowl cleaners sparingly and in accordance with product labels.
  • Don’t allow heavy vehicles to drive over or park on the drain field.
  • Don’t plant trees of shrubs on the drain field. The roots from the plants could damage the system.
  • Don’t cover the drain field with a hard surface such as concrete, asphalt, decks or above ground pools. The area should have a grass cover.
  • Don’t overuse kitchen garbage disposal units. Use of garbage disposals is not recommended with a septic system. This type of waste can be disposed of by discarding in your trash or placing it in a compost pile, (with the exception of spoiled food and meat). Households with garbage disposal units produce about double the solids as those without. If you must keep your garbage disposal, it is very important to pump your septic tank more often.
  • Don’t use your toilet like a trash can or poison your septic system and groundwater by pouring harmful chemicals and cleaners down the drain. Harsh chemicals can kill the beneficial bacteria in your system that treats the wastewater.
  • Don’t ever go down into a septic tank. Toxic gases are produced by the natural treatment process in septic tanks and can kill humans. Extreme care should be taken when inspecting a septic tank, even when just looking in the lid opening.

  • Sewage backup in drains and toilets
  • Slow flushing toilets, slow draining sinks and drains.
  • Visible liquid on surface of the ground near septic system. It may or may not have an odor associated with it.
  • Lush green grass over the drain field, even during dry summer weather. This can indicate an excessive amount of liquid from the system moving up through the soil, instead of downward, as the majority of liquid should.
  • Unpleasant odors around your house.
  • Build-up of aquatic weeds or algae in the lake adjacent to your property. This may indicate that nutrient-rich septic system waste is leaching into the lake.

Sound operation and maintenance practices include water conservation, keeping harmful substances out of the system, and having the system inspected and pumped on a regular basis. Pumping the septic tank regularly is the single most important practice that can protect your system. The solids that settle out in the tank should be removed every 2 to 3 years depending on water usage and the amount of inorganic materials entering the system. When not removed in a timely manner, overflowing solids from the tank accumulate in the drain field clogging the soil and backing up the system. This damages the drain field and may require construction of a new drain field in a different location on the property. When the drain field is clogged with solids, pumping the tank does not rejuvenate the drain field. It provides only a few days of relief until the tank fills again and delivers wastewater to the drain field. Some clogging of soil pores occurs quite slowly even in a properly maintained system, but this should not cause system failure for 20 years or longer.

Just like your house roof, driveway, or furnace, septic systems require upgrades and possibly replacement. Expect that a properly designed and installed septic system will require at least upgrading every 20 to 30 years. While some older systems may have met standards when they were installed, upgrades and replacements will take advantage of the tremendous advances developed to improve wastewater treatment. Due to lot size, topography or proximity to the lake a tight tank, which holds the household wastewater until pumping and has no drain field, may be a better alternative in some cases.
No amount of maintenance or good operating practices can make up for an inadequate or malfunctioning septic system. With the health of our families and Lake Singletary in mind, it’s time to take an honest look at our own septic system design, function and maintenance plan.