Monday, October 4, 2010

Living with a Septic System

You may not realize it, but if you have a septic system in your backyard, you are the owner of a small scale wastewater treatment system. As the owner you are responsible for maintaining a properly operating system to protect the health of you, your neighbors and the environment. A malfunctioning wastewater treatment system can release nutrients and pathogens which harm water quality and pose a threat to public safety.

The essentials for operating and maintaining a conventional septic system or an aerobic treatment unit start at the source of the wastewater stream. The occupants control the amount of water, organic material, and chemicals that enter the waste stream. A wastewater treatment system is designed to accept a specific volume of water and organic material. Exceeding these design volumes can have a significant impact on the performance of your system.

A wastewater treatment system relies on calm conditions to allow the separation of solids from the wastewater. These calm conditions are disrupted by excessive water usage or hydraulic loading. Doing several loads of laundry back to back in a single day can create a hydraulic overload and turn the calm conditions in the tank to whitewater rapids. When this happens, solids are not allowed to settle and will travel further down the system, possibly clogging pumps, spray heads, or drain fields.

Both conventional septic systems and aerobic treatment units are full of numerous microorganisms that are actively digesting and breaking down organic waste. These microorganisms are naturally occurring; therefore it is not necessary to pour additives, yeast or any other materials down the drains. Avoid excessive use of cleaners or toxic chemicals which can kill microorganisms.

The microorganisms in an aerobic treatment unit rely on the right mixture of food and air to stay alive and actively treat waste. The compressor in the yard supplies the air and the residents supply the food. A system is organically overloaded when there is more organic material than the microorganisms can treat and digest. This results in a quicker accumulation of solids and the need for more frequent maintenance. A kitchen garbage disposal can significantly increase the amount of organic loading and may reduce the pump out intervals by 1 to 2 years.

Even though an aerobic treatment unit contains a disinfection devise such as an ultra violet lamp or chlorine, the water exiting the spray heads may still contain potentially harmful pathogens. Maintaining a healthy vegetative cover in the spray field will remove excess water, nutrients, and allow the final treatment processes to occur in the soil.

Being mindful of what goes down your drain is a simple yet important step in managing your septic system or aerobic treatment unit. Maintaining your system will result in higher satisfaction, improved performance and protect environmental health. For more information visit

Friday, January 22, 2010


Welcome to the Texas AgriLife Extension Service onsite sewage facilities blog. The information published through this blog will provide timely information on onsite wastewater topics as well as information about upcoming classes and other educational opportunities. This blog will also address many of the frequently asked questions regarding the operation and maintenance of homeowner systems. Understanding the basics of an OSSF will allow you to better protect yourself and others from health hazards and prevent harm to the environment.