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What actually is the best choice for wastewater collection?
On Nov. 20 a local newspaper printed a headline that caught my attention. Peg Sloan of Westerose appears to laud the need for a connected low-pressure wastewater system on the south shore of Pigeon lake.
The headline is in error, as the proposed low-pressure wastewater system is not as safe as current systems of septic tanks on individual lots, when both systems are properly managed.
In fact, if health is the issue, septic tanks are slightly safer than low-pressure or grinder systems as verified by scientific study. The headline writer will leave many readers with the opposite impression. A low-pressure waste system combines the use of septic tanks with communal piping and pumps. The addition of pipes, pumps, filters and settling tanks of a low-pressure communal system adds its risks to those of septic tanks alone.
The low-pressure systems still use septic tanks on individual lots and then combine a grinding and/or pumping service to transfer the effluent into the community plumbing pipes. In a summer village setting, which exists along the entire south shore of Pigeon Lake, additional risks are associated with the communal pipes that do not exist with tanks alone. About 80 per cent of summer village residents use their property as summer cabins or homes. Mechanical and hydraulic problems are at significant risk in winter as no one is present to attend to them. In addition, when the pipes are not kept full and flowing, the low flow through the plumbing lines increases the risk of blockage, leakage and hence increases the risk of soil contamination. The soil contamination risk may even be significant in summer due to electrical and mechanical engineering problems and pump filter maintenance. It is sad that the problems associated with this pattern of usage are not being offered to ratepayers by those councils that are pushing for the low-pressure communal systems.
Associated with these extra risks are extra costs being transferred to the lot owners themselves. Problems can and will develop in installing the pumping systems within each septic tank currently in use. Further, partial use of the street plumbing will require valve closure and opening patterns when the communal system is not in use. Failure to respect this important feature will risk backflow from the communal system into the individual lot, with expensive problems in the individual lots that suffer regurgitant effluent. This problem is most likely, as 80 per cent of the lots have no full-time residents who will be available to turn off and on their connections whenever there is a community problem with the street pipes, putting their local system at risk.
There is much more to know. A group known as the “Lakewise” team has been distributing information, where these important details are revealed, comparing individual lot with communal sewer systems in such vital areas as costs, health and other issues of importance to every lot owner. These include risks of septic tank damage, repairing STEP and grinding systems and issues involved within the community pipes and pumping that cause problems with individual lot systems. With these issues in mind, any concerned lot owner can find on the internet reports where low-pressure systems are being replaced and existing systems are being replaced, and existing systems being disallowed in small communities. Check out “low-pressure wastewater” management to get started.
So, it is sad the newspaper in question has, by its headline, given readers the idea that low-pressure communal waste collection is the way to go. For both safety and cost, individual septic tanks remain a healthier and less expensive way to handle wastewater at this time in the Summer Village of Pigeon Lake.
Reg Roberts, Edmonton
(Also Pigeon Lake area resident)