Leduc County brought in a Septic Sense: Solutions for Rural Living workshop for residents, and it proved quite popular and in demand with a waiting list of almost 20 extra people who were hoping to attend.
The three-hour workshop touched on how rural landowners can locate their septic system, what a septic system is, how the system works, examples of different systems, regulations, design and instillation, how to use the system, maintenance, and troubleshooting.
Lesley Desjardins, operations manager with Alberta Onsite Wastewater, served as the presenter for the workshop and started with finding the rural septic system.
Points Desjardins mentioned were; checking the home’s “as-built” drawings or inspection documents, checking the yard for lids and manhole covers, securing a copy of the septic permit from the county, or calling a septic maintenance provider for help.
Desjardins also made mention of evolving standards of septic systems, including nowadays lids must sit at grade level. In the past tank access was buried and had to be excavated for servicing.
“A private septic system typically serves fewer than five homes,” said Desjardins, referring to what a septic system is.
She went on to explain a system works by moving effluent from the home into a tank where solids and other particles collect in the tank while the water is moved into a drainage field. There the water is filtered by the soil before eventually making its way back to the well.
Desjardins informed attendees one of the most important parts of a septic system is the vertical setback. The water needs enough soil to run through before making its way back to the well or it will still be contaminated when it reaches the residence, and could contaminate an aquifer.
“We need to treat that effluent before it gets there. That’s why the soil is so critical to the whole component,” said Desjardins.
Seven days of retention time is what is required.
“We used to think a lot of septage evaporated. But now we know only three per cent evaporates,” said Desjardins.
“Some soils are totally unsuitable for a septic system,” she added.
Heavy clay, sand and gravel are such soils, and Desjardins walked residents through a soil textures and structures chart.
When building a new septic system, virgin soil in needed and a site evaluation should be done before any residence and structure work, even if a site is cleared of trees. “It’s not done very often,” said Desjardins.
She added building a house first may leave damaged or unsuitable soil for the system. “It’s a costly mistake to make.”
Following a site evaluation comes a soil evaluation and residents should think hard about their lifestyles and home size to be properly accessed for a septic system. Information included should be number of people, bathrooms, bedrooms, severe medical conditions, dietary habits and appliances (dishwasher, washing machine, garburator).
Desjardins says with proper care a septic system can last up to 35 years, and fields even longer. If eventually needed, a secondary field for a system can be built. “We can actually rest a field and remediate itself.”
Additives and starters sold commercially are not necessary for septic systems and can upset the balance of the tank and kill important bacteria. Desjardins added even drain cleaners can harm the bacteria of a tank.
“A maintained system is cheaper than a new system,” said Desjardins.
“(It) protects your property values,” she added.
A septic system should be inspected once per year and pumped in the spring rather than the fall to avoid filling the tank with undigested solids during the cold months.
Issues with a septic system could be caused by a number of things, including: vegetation roots, pipe blockages, system failure, excess water, freezing and pump failure.
Alarm activation and sewage odors could be indicators where is something wrong with the system.