Do you know when your septic system was last pumped, when your well water was last tested or whether your well casing has ever been inspected? Rural household essentials like wells and septic systems require regular maintenance just like your vehicle but they are often neglected because their infrastructure lies underground, out of sight and out of mind.

Recently in Erin, Credit Valley Conservation held a Well and Septic Social for rural landowners to share the do’s and don’ts of maintaining their wells and septic systems. As we saw with the Walkerton tragedy, the consequences of not properly maintaining these systems are at best unpleasant and at worst can put lives at risk.

Septic Snippets

Participants had an opportunity to get up close and personal with a septic tank being pumped by local sewage pumper, Ed Peavoy. They saw first hand what a tank looks like underground, the different chambers and how they work, and learned tips for what to look for during a visual inspection.

Katherine Rentsch from the Ontario Rural Wastewater Centre (ORWC) recommended that septic systems be pumped and inspected every 3 to 5 years or when the solids in the tank occupy one third or more of the tank’s capacity. Since that level is very difficult to judge when the tank is full of wastewater, it is better to pump every 3 to 5 years.

Katherine and her colleague Doug Joy demystified septic care and maintenance and came armed with tank risers and effluent filters to show participants some inexpensive upgrades they can do to bring their older tank up to current Ontario Building Code standards. Minor upgrades can make your system operate more efficiently and even make it last a little longer.

Most conventional septic systems will last about 15 to 25 years if maintained properly but eventually they will need replacing as a biomat tends to build up around the leaching tile over time, preventing efficient infiltration. Likening septic systems to cars, Doug mentioned in his talk that you might still find a few cars on the road in excess of 25 yrs old, but they likely aren’t operating as efficiently as they did at 5 or 10 yrs old.

Top 6 Septic Tips

  1. Pump and inspect your tank every 3 to 5 yrs. Clean effluent filters every 4 to 6 months. (it helps to keep good records of your maintenance too)
  2. Make the necessary upgrades to bring your tank up to modern building code (i.e. adding risers and effluent filters).
  3. Educate your family and guests about your septic system and what should/shouldn’t go down the drain. (i.e. no feminine sanitary products, diapers, hazardous household chemicals or fats like bacon grease)
  4. Septic additives with performance enhancing claims are not required for a septic system to function normally.
  5. Protect the area around your septic system from
    • compaction by heavy vehicles
    • penetration by tree roots
    • saturation from emptying swimming pools
  6. Know the signs and symptoms of a failing system, and act immediately at the first sign of potential failure.
    • Pooling in grass over septic bed
    • High bacteria counts in your well water or that of your neighbours
    • Slow drains or wastewater backing up into house
    • Foul odour inside or outside of home

Click here to view a video clip of the event.

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