A Septic Situation

By Sandra Zunino

Most likely, if you ignore the regular maintenance of your septic system, it will let you know in an ugly way. Should the tank become full, sludge can move into the drain field, blocking the drainage flow. Eventually the drainpipe from the house to the tank backs up, and waste appears at the nearest drain inside the home such as a sink or shower.

It is important to pump out the accumulated solids in the tank on a regular basis. Several factors, such as the size of the house, number of occupants in home, weather and ground water saturation dictate how often this should be done.

In 2008, one more factor was added to the list. Last November, Queen Anne’s County Commissioners stated that every on-site sewage treatment system in the county should be pumped out every five years. The regulation was initiated as one means to protect the Chesapeake Bay from nitrogen pollution, which can leach out into the bay when systems are improperly maintained.

Licensed septic services collect the sewage and transport it to the a sewage treatment facility in Queen Anne’s County. “We are tightly regulated,” says Ray Francis of Kent Island Septic Services, Inc. in Stevensville. “Tanks must be sealed tightly and are inspected annually.”

Homeowners will be expected to provide proof that the system has been pumped within the five year window, or in lieu of a sewer pump-out, must provide documentation by a certified liquid waste hauler licensed by the QAC Department of Environmental Health that the solids did not exceed one-third of the tanks recommended capacity.

After pumping and checking the system, Kent Island Septic submits documentation to the county for the homeowner. “Under normal circumstances (pumping) every five years is fine,” says Ray, “Some areas may need as much as once or twice a year due certain circumstance.”

“The county is trying to monitor septic systems so they are properly maintained,” he adds. “Systems will also be inspected to make sure they are operating correctly.”

Properly maintaining a septic system benefits the homeowner. Natural bacteria in the tank breaks down solids so gray water runs into the drain fields and filters through the soil. If solids are allowed to build up, eventually the tank will stop functioning. If solids clog the drain field, it too can be permanently damaged. Depending on the size of the home, a new septic system costs $8,000 to $10,000.

Gurgling sounds from drains, slow flushing, and standing water over the drain fields are signs that a system is in trouble. One way to protect the system is to avoid flushing foreign matter down the drains such as diapers, wipes, sanitary items, grease, toxic chemicals, etc.

Ray cautions about using products that say “safe for septic systems,” as sometimes these products can still cause trouble. He also recommends using liquid detergents for laundry and dishwashers, opposed to powders.

Additives like yeast and enzymes designed for septic systems can help with the bacterial breakdown of solids in the tank in between pumping.

Queen Anne’s County also requires nitrogen-removing or “bio-nutrient removal” septic systems for new homes built near the water. This is a three-stage system requiring three tanks to process sewage before pumping into drain fields.

For more information, visit www.qac.org.