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Most Recent Ag News Article
November 29, 2023 - Septic Systems 101
Septic system maintenance and function.
Often the most neglected system on a farm or acreage, the typical septic disposal system is taken for granted until it suddenly stops working.
The average person puts 340 liters of sewage through a septic system in a single day. A family of four in a two-bedroom house typically produces 1360 liters per day.
A little regular attention can go a long way in limiting costly maintenance down the road, not to mention the inconvenience of a back-up into the home.
Left too long, a neglected septic system can require costly repair. It can also create a negative impact on the surrounding environment and potentially create a public health issue.
Aside from faulty septic fields or poorly located outflow systems that overflow and seep into ground water, pathogens or disease producing bacteria found in sewage, can produce spores able to withstand extreme cold or dry conditions.
A properly functioning septic system digests sewage via anaerobic bacteria present in body wastes. Bacteria thrive in an environment that is warm, wet, dark and devoid of fresh air. They establish themselves spontaneously in a properly functioning tank, helping to break down the solids in the primary compartment.
The most common tank design is composed of two compartments. The job of the primary compartment is to allow solids to settle and break down, while retaining scum and other floating materials from entering the second chamber. This second chamber releases effluent devoid of solids to the field, mound or outflow.
The Alberta Private Sewage Systems Standard of Practice (2021) provides the performance, objectives, design standards and material requirements related to onsite systems.
Designed for the normal use of household chemicals, detergents, drain and toilet bowl cleaners, overuse can harm the bacterial action in a septic tank causing more rapid development of solids to collect in the primary compartment.
The use of garburators is discouraged as they contribute to sediment load while water softeners using Sodium Chloride can negatively affect the system through excessive backwashing causing reduced permeability in field soils.
Sediment buildup is primarily determined by the size of the tank and amount of use. Given that bacterial action is a slow process, sediment will collect over time, requiring removal.
For a household of 3 or less, a cleaning once every two years is usually acceptable, while yearly cleaning is generally necessary for larger households.
A common misconception is that a “starter” should be added to the system to initiate bacterial growth following cleaning. The use of yeast or similar products is discouraged and can actually cause harm to the septic field.
In the case of a newly installed septic tank, filling it with hot water before use will usually be enough to initiate bacterial growth.
Being aware of what goes down the drain and how it may affect the integrity of your sewage disposal system, as well as how it functions, together with regular cleaning and inspections, will go a long way toward guaranteeing that there will be no unnecessary inconvenience or expense.
Not only is it crucial to be aware of what goes down the drain but also whether your system is functioning to the standard it needs to be.
A malfunctioning septic system is said to be the third most common source of ground water contamination. Proper use and maintenance will protect your drinking water, your neighbors drinking water as well as water for many recreational and agricultural users downstream.
If a system is not maintained or functioning properly, it is at great risk of becoming an environmental or public health issue, which can have further detrimental effects.
For information on specific guidelines for installation of new systems, design or regular maintenance contact Alberta Municipal Affairs at www.municipalaffairs.alberta.ca. For questions or concerns regarding sewage systems, you can call the Safety Codes Council at 1-888-413-0099.