As a homeowner or business owner who relies on a septic system for your waste management, you are also responsible for ensuring the safety of the groundwater and drinking water on your property. One way this is achieved is through proper maintenance of your septic system.
Toilets, sinks, showers and washing machines produce wastewater that drains into an underground, water-tight, living filter septic tank. In the tank, solids settle to the bottom (sludge) and fats, oils, and grease float to the top. Contaminants in the wastewater begin to be broken down and destroyed in the tank. Porous pipes buried in soil, gravel and sand carry the wastewater into a leach field (drainfield). From here, the partially treated wastewater filters through dirt and the surrounding sand, where microbes break down the waste and filter out bacteria and other harmful pathogens before it enters the groundwater. Flowing groundwater underneath a drain field should capture any remaining contaminants.
Groundwater contamination can occur from septic systems that are improperly maintained or damaged. In order to prevent your precious drinking water from becoming contaminated with harmful bacteria, you should first understand how your septic system and water supply interact with one another.
How Does a Septic System and Groundwater Supply Interact?
Many homes that are reliant on a septic system rather than city sewer also rely on well water from a source on or near your property. Water from an underground aquifer is pumped into your house and your septic system processes the water generated from toilets, sinks, bathtubs and appliances.
The products that we manufacture – usually gasoline, oil, road salts and chemicals – leach into the soil and find their way into the water stored there. Such pollutants travel a long way through the soil, sand and rock to reach the water sources hidden deep below. Then, this contaminated water travels back to the surface water sources, and it eventually reaches areas where humans, plants, and animals consume it, causing illness and widespread damage.
Septic Systems and Drinking Water
Septic systems provide wastewater treatment for many homeowners who also often get their drinking water from private wells. If a septic system is not working properly or is located too close to a drinking water well, contaminants from the wastewater can end up in drinking water. Learn how to locate, operate, and maintain your septic system to protect nearby wells.
Septic Systems and Surface Water
Many homeowners rely on septic systems for safe and effective treatment of their wastewater. Household wastewater is treated by a septic system before it filters into the soil. Recycled water from a septic system can help replenish groundwater supplies; however, if the system is not working properly, it can contaminate nearby waterbodies. Learn how nutrients and pathogens from your septic system may impact streams, lakes, or other waterbodies near your home.
When Can Contamination Occur?
1. Proximity Issue
If a septic system is placed too close to a well, the groundwater may flow from the septic drainfield and infiltrate and contaminate the water flowing into the well. Septic tanks and leach fields should be separated from wells by a minimum of 50 feet.
2. Abundance of Septic Systems Near Well
Even if your septic system is placed at an appropriate distance from your well, the risk of contamination is still substantial if there are a several septic systems operating on nearby properties. The concentrations from multiple septic systems can combine to overwhelm and contaminate the ground and surface water, thereby putting your well water at risk.
3. Impermeable Soil
If the soil on your property is not suitable for absorbing the water released into the drainfield of your septic system, or if the system becomes clogged due to improper use or lack of maintenance, the surface water and groundwater can become contaminated, leaving your well water susceptible to contamination as well.
How Can I Prevent Contamination of Well Water?
1. Distance and Depth
Contact your state or local department of health to find out how far apart to place your well and septic system. Greater distance will be beneficial. Additionally, the deeper the well is dug, the less risk there is for the water to become contaminated by the water that is been treated by your septic system.
2. Maintain Your Septic System
Septic systems typically require pumping once every 3-5 years depending on the tank capacity and amount of household use of the system. Failing to pump out a full tank can result in backflow into your home or dangerous runoff from your tank or drain field that can travel downhill to water sources.
3. Test Well Water
You should have your well water tested for contaminants at least once per year and even more often if you have a shallow well that collects surface water. If you suspect an issue, test the water more often as water quality can change quickly.
4. Only Trust a Specialist with Septic Tank Installation
Septic tanks are tasked with storing wastewater safely for long periods of time. Homeowners and renters expect their sewer system to work reliably, while performing their duty out of sight and out of mind. The last thing you want is to deal with a problem with dangerous bacteria from backflow or contaminated drinking water due to an improperly installed septic tank system. Your septic system is only as good as the septic service team that installs it.
5. Avoid damaging your septic system
Preventable septic tank issues like avoiding foreign and hard materials from entering your drains from inside your home and protecting the structure above your septic tank and drain field can help you avoid a groundwater contamination disaster.
6. Groundwater Contamination Effects
With all the chemicals seeping and leaking into the groundwater supply, scientists warn about the dangers of contamination.
7. Health Risks
Health effects are some of the greatest risks associated with groundwater pollution, as it easily penetrates the food chain. These risks and damages include poisoning (of animals and people), dysentery, or hepatitis. The more contaminated the water supply is, the more dangerous the consumption of polluted water becomes for humans, wildlife, and even farm animals.
8. Economic Risks
When the groundwater is contaminated, the problems aggravate in a cascading manner, affecting the economy. This means that vast areas of land depreciate, while many industries relying on underground water sources become vulnerable.
9. Environmental Risks
Last but not least, the environment is the one suffering the most because of groundwater contamination. Toxic water present in ecosystems can lead to devastating effects, damaging habitats entirely. Moreover, nutrient pollution can lead to severe consequences of the entire environmental chain.
While septic tanks are mostly self-sufficient, neglect and damage to your septic system can result in disastrous contamination to groundwater if not properly serviced. Regularly scheduling pumping and maintenance will ensure that your septic tank is performing optimally for years to come.
At West Coast Sanitation, we know that you do not have time to deal with septic problems. If you think that your system has reached capacity, please give us a call right away. We have professionals ready to answer your questions and get your system working properly again.