Stormwater Straight Talk: Maintaining septic systems

  • Published
  • Robins Public Affairs

Homes and businesses that are not connected to a centralized treatment plant use septic systems to treat their wastewater. When properly installed and maintained, septic systems help protect public health and water quality. However, a septic system malfunction or failure may result in backups, putting surface waters at risk.


In a typical septic system, wastewater runs out of the building from one main drainage pipe into a septic tank. The septic tank holds the wastewater long enough to allow solids to settle down to the bottom, while oil and grease float to the top. The liquids then exit the tank to a series of perforated pipes that slowly release the wastewater into the soil, commonly called a drainfield. Harmful bacteria, viruses and nutrients are treated as the water percolates through the soil.


During rain events, the drainfield may become too saturated for the wastewater to infiltrate into the soil. Septic systems also require routine maintenance to remove the settled solids and maintain capacity to treat the wastewater.


Saturated drainfields or limited tank capacity might cause a septic system to overload and slow or stop the treatment of wastewater. Septic waste can back up into the building or discharge to the ground surface. Septic waste that is released to the surface can come into contact with stormwater, and contaminate surface waters such as lakes, rivers and streams.


A few signs that a septic system requires maintenance may include wastewater backing up into household drains, strong odor around the septic tank and drainfield, and bright green, spongy grass appearing on the drainfield, even during dry weather.


It is also important to note that a septic system is not designed to treat oils and greases, and a buildup of oil and grease can also cause septic tank malfunction.


Recommendations to keep your septic system in good condition include:

- Have your system inspected every three years by a licensed contractor, and have the tank pumped as recommended by the inspector, generally every three to five years.

- Keep roof drains, sump pumps and other rainwater drainage systems away from the drainfield.

- Plant trees or shrubs at an appropriate distance from the drainfield to keep roots from growing into the septic system.

- Do not park or drive vehicles on any part of the septic system.

- Avoid pouring cooking grease, oil, oil-based paints, solvents and large volumes of toxic cleaners down the drain.

- Do not flush non-degradable products, such as diapers, flushable wipes, cigarette butts, coffee grounds, cat litter, paper towels, pharmaceuticals, etc.


For more information, call (478) 926-9645.


Stormwater Straight Talk is a quarterly column intended to educate and inform base personnel and families about stormwater management.