Septic Systems: they may be out of sight, but they shouldn’t be out of mind!

written by Terri-Lee Reid

When you love your lake, you will want to make sure your septic system is functioning properly. Improperly treated wastewater may contain bacteria, viruses, phosphorus, and nitrogen. Inadequate treatment can result in an overabundance of weeds and algal blooms. This can make a lake unpleasant for swimming and boating, affect water quality, fish, wildlife, and their habitats, and it can cause health risks for people.

Maintaining your septic system is your responsibility! Follow these helpful tips to make sure your septic system keeps functioning properly.

Septic System Do’s:

  • Know where your tank and drain field are.
  • Reduce your water use to keep solid sludge settled on the bottom of the tank.
  • Have your septic system inspected and pumped regularly and keep a record of all maintenance work.
  • Have this done by a licensed professional. Get the contractor to check the scum and sludge depth, inspect for any large cracks or deterioration and check the fit of access lids.
  • How often you do this depends on the size of your tank, how many people are in your household and how much it is being used. A general rule of thumb is to have a septic tank inspected and pumped every three to five years.
  • Holding tanks may have to be pumped as often as every week, depending on its size and usage. Check your tank regularly and have it pumped before it reaches its capacity.
  • The best time to pump out your septic tank is summer and early fall. This ensures the tank will have time to refill and re-establish bacterial activity before winter.
  • For systems that receive little to no use over winter, keep about one foot of liquid in the tank to support bacterial action and to reduce any damage from freezing.
  • Keep your septic system accessible so it can be properly maintained.
  • Keep a perimeter around the edge of the drain field clear of trees and shrubs. How big of a perimeter depends on the species – be sure to do some research!

Septic System Don’ts:

  • Don’t drive or park vehicles on top of your drain field; this can compact the soil and damage pipes.
  • Don’t use cleaners, soaps and detergents with phosphates.
  • Don’t use septic additives. They are not necessary or effective and some may harm your system.
  • Don’t flush anything that you didn’t produce, except for toilet paper! That means no fats, grease, paints, cat litter, sanitary products, diapers, wipes, cigarette butts or kitchen waste.
  • Don’t water your lawn over the drain field.

What to do if your septic system isn’t working properly
It’s time to call for help from a professional if:

  • Your toilets or drains are backed up
  • You have foul smells inside and/or outside your house
  • You find soft or spongy ground over the drain field
  • Your drain field has patches of abnormally healthy-looking grass on it
  • There’s surface water leaking into the holding tank
  • You are requesting fewer than normal pump outs on your holding tank

For more information on how you can show your lake some love, visit Love Your Lake is a shoreline naturalization program developed by the Canadian Wildlife Federation and Watersheds Canada.