The well and septic system on your country property should be considered an investment. And as all good investors will tell you, look after your investment.
Owning an acreage can be a very fulfilling lifestyle choice for property owners. Country living is different from living in the city. Many acreages rely on a well as a water source for potable water in the home. Most country/rural living also relies on septic systems and the soil to safely return the water back to the receiving environment. The well and septic system on your country property should be considered an investment. And as all good investors will tell you, look after your investment. Proper maintenance of your water source and septic system can provide a long term sustainable resource on your property; and potentially increase the resale value of your property. If you are considering purchasing an established acreage with an onsite wastewater treatment system already installed and are wondering about the condition of the system; we can put you in contact with professionals to give you their best opinion on the systems health.
Water wells are not something D&S typically deal with as septic designers/installers (other than setback requirements), however it is important for country dwellers to realize where their potable water source is, and the production and quality of the water source. We work with quality well drillers and well maintenance providers and are able recommend the correct person for the job. Well water driller - www.niemansdrilling.com.
For further information, view the Facts About Water in Alberta PDF available from the Government of Alberta's website.
Depending upon the quality of the potable water source, additional water treatment may be required, and the excess residual water from treatment processes needs to be directed somewhere other than into the septic system. Typically, this water will be sent to a drywell if the soil inventory at the site allows. A drywell is basically an excavation that is filled with a drain media to allow for regeneration water produced from water treatment processes to be applied to the subsurface soils and allowed to seep away. This water typically does not contain any viruses or bacteria (other than natural occurring bacteria in the water) and therefore does not require treatment and can be discharged directly to the soils. D&S can aid in the design of a drywell on your property if requested.
The two most common types of failures are “pooling” or “ponding” of the effluent at the ground surface. Ponding or pooling generally occurs when the soils are overloaded from excessive wastewater use and the soil are saturated and can no longer accept wastewater downward. This can also occur if the wastewater generated from the home is of a higher strength than what is considered to be residential strength. The addition of garburators can provide additional organic material to be added to the wastewater stream and can create a higher than expected strength sewage. Canning and alcohol processes can also contribute to changes in wastewater strength. If the sewage strength becomes too high, the naturally occurring bacteria in the soils cannot digest the food fast enough and a biomat forms. Biomat is not predictable, however can reduce soil infiltration rates to almost zero and then the wastewater accumulates and eventually comes to surface.
The second type of system failure is potential contamination of groundwater because effluent is mixed with shallow ground water or it is not retained with the soils long enough to allow bacteria with the soils to digest the contaminants. This type of failure is not easy to recognize as it is below ground surface. Provided your system is designed properly and according to your soil inventory and the system is installed as per the design, groundwater contamination should not occur.
A type of component failure is the center wall of the septic tank eroding to a point where solids are no longer contained with the first compartment of the septic tank. Solids can now travel downstream to the next compartment and ultimately be discharged to the soil based treatment area. The solid waste potentially can plug off the soil pore space (due to a biomat build up) and inhibit the effluent to travel downward into the soils. Biomat is undigested waste, anaerobic bacteria and the slime the bacteria produce to trap their food. In a proper working system, the biomat should not be of sufficient thickness to impede the downward movement of effluent through the soils. Check with the tank manufacturers or your installer for warranty on this component.
These items do not readily decompose within the treatment tank. If feminine hygiene products, condoms or dental floss manage to travel into the dose chamber of the system, they can plug siphons or pumps and potentially cause a backup of sewage within the system.
Gel packaged detergents are generally not recommended for use with septic systems. The polymers and surfactants used to develop the gel pod coating on the detergents is suspected to potentially cause problems in the soil treatment area. Regular liquid detergent is recommended.
Laundry for the home should be spread out over the entire week. When homeowners save all the laundry for one specific day, the system can be hydraulically overloaded for a short period of time. This can lead to premature failure of the system.
Certain brands of toilet paper tend not to breakdown as easily as others. This does not necessarily create problems in the soil based treatment areas; however, can require more frequent pumping of the accumulated material collected in the tank(s).
Pharmaceuticals may be diluted within the wastewater stream, but are “untreatable” so eventually can travel through the soils and enter any potential near surface groundwaters.
Grease is one of the most difficult substances to treat within an onsite wastewater system. Tanks, pipes, filters and most importantly soils can become completely plugged off over time. If the soils become sealed off due to grease from the wastewater, infiltration rates can become so restricted the un-treated sewage comes to surface or backs up in the system and can often cause sewage to back-up into the facility. Grease from cooking should be collected and disposed of with the household garbage.
Food particles add to the organic content and can substantially increase the strength of the wastewater. Higher strength sewage can require alternate treatment processes that typically cost more than the treatment process required for typical residential strength sewage.
Special septic additives are not required to be added to your septic system. All the necessary bacteria for your septic system to perform properly are naturally occurring within the waste generated from the home and in the natural soil inventory at your site. Regeneration water from water treatment processes requires specific design consideration to accommodate these wastewater flows. Often the regeneration water from a water softener will be directed to a dry well rather than being added to the wastewater stream. Regeneration water from an iron filter is not allowed to be discharged into the septic system.
Leaky plumbing fixtures can contribute large volumes of water to be added to the wastewater system. This additional unexpected flow volume can cause the system to fail. Dripping faucets and running toilets can add hundreds of gallons per day to the system, that would not have been accounted for in the system design. Any leaky fixtures should be replaced or repaired as soon as possible to prevent system damage.
Check with your designer/installer to ensure that any cleaners used within the home are compatible with your septic system. Some cleaners may be harmful to your system.