Slick Septic or Sick Septic?
The department of health has estimated that one in three septic systems in Arkansas is defective. So between you and the neighbor on each side of you, there is probably one of those defectives close to your doorstep!
The ideal septic system takes everything that you flush down the pan, everything that washes down the kitchen sink, everything from the shower, wash basin and washing machine and gathers it in a settling tank where the microbes thrive on the nutritious mush. Heavy stuff sinks to the bottom while grease, fat and floaty stuff remain on the surface. Liquid just below the floaties runs off to pipes in the leach field where it passes through holes in the pipes into the sandy gravel of your yard. On its way through the ground the liquid is filtered of nasties and becomes clean water, heading for the lake, river or aquifer. Worms, plants and insects benefit from the cleaning process and your grass grows a richer green.
But some things are not good for the septic tank and seriously upset the digestion of the microbes. Bleach and chemicals ruin their appetite. Plastic beads in that scouring soap or abrasive body-wash make no meal for those critters and some laundry stain removers are also microbe removers. When the microbes don’t eat, the solids build up fast in the tank. Remember, the septic system is NOT a magic disposal machine for household waste.
Eventually every settling tank becomes packed with solids and can take no more. Whatever flows in from your home flows right through to the leach field, which in turn becomes blocked with solids. You will know about it from the smell, the soggy ground and the lush vegetation, perhaps even from the diseases that afflict your family. You should have called the Septic Tank Company long before this happened because they could pump it in less than an hour and set you up for more years of good performance. Nobody can tell you exactly how often the tank should be emptied. It depends on the size of the tank, the size of your household and the volume of water usage. Five to seven years would be a typical time to call the septic company.
There are worse things that happen to septics. Old tanks can corrode, crack and leak so that the liquid runs directly into one soggy patch near the fracture instead of being distributed over a large area. The structure of the rocky terrain in Northwest Arkansas has fissures, cracks and crevices that permit liquid to run directly to the river or the lake without passing through the filtering action of the soil. Now your children can be swimming in raw sewage and the fish that you proudly bring home for supper will send you to hospital by morning!
Sorry about the bad news. The old septic tank must be dug up and replaced because it will never heal itself. There may not be a way to flush out the leach lines either, so they may need to be replaced also. Look at it this way. There was an investment cost to install the septic system when your house was built but the running costs are negligible. Suppose you pay $200 to have the septic tank pumped every 5 years, which is an annual cost of less than $1 per week. Compare that to the price of electricity, propane, phone or TV. No contest!
Don’t be the one household in three with a defective septic system. Check when it was last pumped and make a date with the Septic Pump Man.
Submitted by the board of the Kings River Watershed Partnership.
Septic tank pumping at local Carroll County home.
P.O. Box 961 | Berryville, AR 72616 | Phone: 870-480-8897 | Email: KRWP@kingsriverwatershed.org
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Last Update April 2023