The Secret Underground

Although the title could be referring to a book review of Dante’s Inferno, or a report on intrigue in wartime, it doesn’t. Today, we’re going to get the scoop on septic systems. How ’bout THAT?

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Using flushable kitty litter BEFORE we lived with an on-site septic system

This post is for all those folks who never lived in the country. And for those looking longingly at moving out of town and into the hills. And for those who have not experienced septic system technology in the past 15 years.

Living in terrain that is not amenable to pumping sewage vast distances to be treated at a central location means that either you personally, or your new subdivision, will have a small sewage treatment plant on the property. I know a little bit about the single-owner kind because I grew up with a traditional drain-field system at my childhood home, and now we have two dwellings and two advanced systems on our property. Texas A&M Extension Service has the best website for explaining on-site sewage facilities.

You will be surprised to know that I compare the maintenance of a healthy septic system to baking yeast bread. Before I lose you entirely, let me explain:

  1. The principle behind baking great bread is to keep your yeast, a living organism, very happy.
  2. The principle behind maintaining a functional septic system is to keep your beneficial bacteria, a living organism, very happy.

That’s it!

The septic system takes effluent from the house and drains it into a tank where the solids settle out, and the liquid is either treated and partially sanitized in compartments then sprayed out onto the landscape, or it goes from the tank into underground drain fields through horizontal tubes arranged in the pattern of tree branches, to be treated and sanitized by the soil organisms. In both cases, bacteria are the heroes that break down the nasty sludge and the effluent water into soil nutrients plus clean water. We ♥love♥ our bacteria!

Here is what to consider when you are using a septic system to treat your effluent: what will make the bacteria very sad? What will make the bacteria sick? What will make the bacteria die? Avoid these!

  1. Too much water running through the system (a deluge!) at once flushes through the tank way too fast and doesn’t allow solids to settle out. This clogs your pumps or your filters. Yuck! Choose the low-water-use front-loading washer and don’t do all your loads in the same day.
  2. Installing the underground tank where rainwater runoff will enter it quickly creates the same deluge problem.
  3. Antibiotics- whether medicines flushed, antibiotic soap and cleaners used, or other chemicals (bleach! phosphates!) poured down the drain- you’re gonna kill off some, or all, of your bacteria and THEN you’ll be sorry!
  4. It takes ⇐time⇒ for the solids to be decomposed by the bacteria, and if you put more through your system in a short period of time than it is rated for, you are going to create clogs, either in the pump, the filter, or in the drain or sprayer lines. Forget the food scraps and the disposal- too much unprocessed solid material at once. No kitty litter (even flushable), no sanitary products, no wipes (even flushable), no nothing that isn’t natural and mushy! Just figure out a different disposal method, or you will be spending thousands of dollars replacing your system early.

On-site sewage facilities, when properly cared-for, are environmentally-friendly and efficient. You can admire them and how well they do their job without causing collateral damage to ground, air, and water. Yay for the little guys!!! Bacteria are awesome!

Your county is going to require a permit in order for you to create a septic system. This is because the specialists want to look at your plans to make sure the idea in your head isn’t going to come out into the world in a way that will pollute a nearby waterway, well, or adjoining property. Also, your county is going to require you to have on file a maintenance contract with an approved contractor that will periodically inspect your system and keep it functioning. No polluted groundwater, please!

My next post will be my favorite yeast bread recipe. Don’t say I don’t have a sense of humor.

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