How to Be Good to Your Septic System

By Carolyn Myers Lindberg, WMSWCD

Maintaining your septic system could mean the difference between spending $350 every three years in pumping costs or as much as $20,000 for a new drainfield. That’s what 50 participants heard at a Septic Maintenance and Well Water Workshop March 3, 2009 at the Skyline Grange. The workshop was sponsored by West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District (WMSWCD).

For most households, pumping should be done every three years to keep solids out of the drainfield and prevent septic failure. Larger septic tanks used by a big family, for instance, could require more frequent pumping. Colbey Browne of Goodman Sanitation said other causes of septic failure are overloading the system, water leaks, placement of the tank in a poor drainage area or not installing the system according to code. He recommends homeowners be kind to their systems by not pouring grease down the drain, not using the garbage disposal too much, and flushing cigarette butts and inorganic materials down the toilet. In addition, he warns, using salt and water softeners will harm the system, as will driving over your drainfield or allowing livestock access to the area.

Mike Ebeling and Erin Mick with the Portland Bureau of Development Services explained how to site a septic system to make sure that soil, drainage and topography are adequate and that enough space is allowed for the proper drainfield. Mick said a variety of septic systems are on the market, some of which require much more maintenance than others. He noted that some of the new technology in waste water treatment will require maintenance as a condition for installation.

In addition, Scott Gall, Conservation Planner with the WMSWCD, spoke about Oregon Senate Bill 1010, which contains clean water requirements for rural landowners and agricultural operators. He suggested that homeowners and businesses remove any chemicals stored in well houses. Insure that sanitary seals are tight and that blackflow protectors are installed on all outdoor faucets. He recommends that residents have their water tested for nitrates and coliform bacteria, which may signal that organisms are getting into your well and could be a human health hazard. Gall suggests testing once a year, after any work is done on the well or if you notice surface water not draining around the well. Gall cites OSU Extension which asks residents to limit the use of lawn and garden chemicals, protect their soil from oil, gasoline and household chemicals and shield animal waste from the rain.