by Jennifer Wemhoff, the Groundwater Foundation
With proper construction and maintenance, septic systems can be an effective way of treating wastewater for homeowners not connected to a centralized wastewater treatment system. But it's up to the homeowner to take care of the system and ensure it's not negatively impacting groundwater.
Regular Inspections. Your septic system should be inspected annually to ensure that it's working properly and if the tank needs to be pumped. Having your system inspected and pumped regularly can help you avoid the high cost of septic system failure. Find a professional septic system contractor. An inspection will locate the system, uncover the manhole and inspection ports, check connections, measure the scum and sludge layers, and check the tank and drainfield.
Keep Records. It's important to keep records of all permits, inspections, pumpings, repairs, and other maintenance. It's also a good idea to keep a sketch of where your system is located. Having this information is handy for service providers.
Protect the Drainfield. The septic system's drainfield is delicate, and needs to be protected. Don't plant anything but grass over the drainfield. Roots from shrubs and trees can cause damage. Also, don't drive, park, or operate heavy machinery over any part of the system, and don't build anything on top of the drainfield. Grass is the best cover for a drainfield.
Be Careful What You Flush. What you put into your septic system greatly affects its ability to do its job. Your septic system contains living organisms that digest and treat waste. Septic systems are not designed to be a garbage can. In the kitchen, don't put food scraps, coffee grinds, grease, cooking oils, or other food items down the drain. In the bathroom, never flush plastics, paper towels, facial tissues, tampons, sanitary napkins, cigarette butts, dental floss, disposable diapers, condoms, medications, or kitty litter in the toilet. The only things that should be flushed down the toilet are wastewater and toilet paper.
Conserve Water. Water conservation is a very important part of septic system maintenance. Continual saturation of the drainfield's soil can affect its ability to remove contaminants from wastewater. Look for and fix leaky fixtures and toilets, only wash full loads in the dish and clothes washers, and take short showers.
Find out more about how you can protect groundwater through septic system maintenance here, here, and here.