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2008: "Water To Waste." education publication.

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2008 logoOnsite Wastewater of Northwest Michigan
2008: "Water To Waste." education publication - Return To Main Index

Water To Waste Section Five: Installation, siting, operation and maintenance.

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The Laws Of Physics .. EUREKA!

Somewhere around 220 BC, when the Greek scholar Archimedes leapt into his bathtub and discovered that a body displaces an equal volume in fluid - the implication for septic or municipal sewer systems probably wasn’t on his mind.
Fast forward 2000 years and Archimedes Law will surely come to mind the next time what you previously put down the drain miraculously reappears in a most smelly, unpleasant manner.

If you look back at this cross section of a typical septic tank -
Archimedes Law becomes obvious. A pint glass can’t hold a gallon!

The purpose of the tank is to let solids settle and allow fluids to move on to the treatment train.
Too many solids = not enough volume for incoming liquid = one of 2 things: something overflowing in your house, or a smelly mess on the surface in the back yard.

It can also mean serious trouble for your treatment field which could now be flooded with decaying debris, fats and floating materials that should never leave the tank except courtesy of a septic hauler truck.
Excessive water use is money from your pocket.
Consider this,and the limited space in your tank the next time you run multiple loads of laundry.
The consequences for a large municipal system, when it receives too much, too soon, or experiences system failures, can lead to serious surface water discharge issues.

Using your sink or toilet as a garbage can or failing to do regular maintenance on a septic system is going to cost you money! If ‘flush and forget’ is how you see the function of you household plumbing then consider the consequences?
You wouldn’t dream of running your car for 10 years without doing routine maintenance such as checking tires, oil or filters.
If the cost to replace a septic system is on average $7-9000 doesn’t it make sense to at least practice some basic do’s and don’ts?

The wastewater industry devotes much research considering how Mr. & Mrs. America has a fascination with all things ‘convenient’ which find there way into our modern ‘conveniences’ - sinks, toilets, drains, septics and sewers.
A trip to a municipal treatment plant can be an eye opener!
If our wastewater systems are intended for human waste, how do tons of plastics, hair, packaging, grease and all sorts of garbage get in there?

Any septic service provider or municipal sewer plant operator has first hand experience of the strength and resilience of human hair.

Hair is one of the things found floating in the scum layer..
But this is just one of many culprits that fill valuable space in your septic tank. Oils, shaving products, coffee grounds? Cigarette butts?

Remember that Law of Archimedes. If what you put in can’t decompose - it is taking up pretty expensive rental space!

Remember that the next time you have your carpets cleaned and you find the cleaner dumping the contents down your toilet.

Remember that the next time you run the garbage disposal unit - could you save those scraps in the freezer till garbage day?
Remember that the next time you rinse out that greasy frying pan could you wipe out the excess fat with newspaper?
Remember that the next time Fluffy’s litter box needs cleaning.

Picture the contents in your mind settling peacefully to the bottom of your tank and accumulating there like an unpaid credit card balance ......

And a quick word about magic additives...........
Now you know just how inhospitable the interior of your septic tank is. Gas and acids are at work in there, plus all the other chemical products you use every day. It is the considered opinion of all reputable wastewater professionals that most of the additives promoted to prolong your system’s life either don’t work at all or can be hazardous to the environment if they should leach out into the drainfield.
There is also considerable concern about how water softener salts, laundry bleach and fabric softener liquids can bring a perfectly good system to a grinding halt.

Flush and Forget?

The old stereotype of the ‘septic guy’probably deserves to be buried out in the back yard along with the tank!
The smiling face who arrives at your door is just as likely to look like the person standing here.
Many sanitation providers are now owned or co-owned by women.
The sanitation service industry is big business. Just take a look at www.pumpershow.com and the trade publications devoted to educating and informing the industry, and general public, available from COLE Publishing.

The Pumper & Cleaner Expo has been held each February for 27 years. In 2008 the Expo moved to the Louisville, KY Expo Center.
Over 12,000 attendees from more than 4,000 companies visited over 500 exhibits, discovering new tools to work better and smarter. The latest techniques are taught by the brightest people in the industry in dozens of seminars.
(Photo credit:
Onsite Wastewater of NW MI

Septic Pumpers in Michigan are licensed and required to take MDEQ Continuing Septic Education to keep or renew their license.
Pumpers use these terms when describing themselves: community supporter, sanitation expert, public health service provider, environmental and conservation supporter.
We should all have a healthy respect for the hard working women and men of the sanitation business.
Would you want to do this dirty job for yourself?
How often should you have your system looked at or pumped?

1. Any time water doesn’t seem to be going away as quickly as it used to.
2. If you notice soggy patches in the lawn.
3. If you increase the number of people in your home.
4. A general rule is that for homes with just two people, have it pumped every 3-7 years; for 2-4 people shorten that to 2-5 years.
5. If there is greater than 1:3 sludge to fluid ratio it’s time to pump.

However perfectly a system is designed and installed, if YOU,the property owner, don’t pay proper attention to what goes down the drain, or don’t have regular maintenance done,
it’s like pouring money down the toilet!!

Water To Waste Section Two: Water / Energy Efficiency information and EPA WaterSense Program

Water To Waste Section Three: The inter-relationship between water use, wastewater, the water cycle and wastewater systems.

Water To Waste Section Four: Common sense information about how your wastewater system works

Water To Waste Section Six and Seven: The many amazing things that end up in the waste stream and why we should be careful and concerned.

Water To Waste Section Eight and Nine: The state of our region - an attempt to survey wastewater systems.

Water To Waste Section Ten: The Case For Community Management

Water To Waste Section Eleven: Small community options, choices and solutions

Water To Waste Section Twelve: Understanding northwest Michigan geography and geology and how this relates to wastewater.

Water To Waste Section Thirteen: Information about different types of wastewater systems and case studies.

Water To Waste Section Fourteen: A terrible waste to waste - when there's money to be made and saved by innovation.

Water To Waste Section Fifteen: A word about who we are and our goals for the future - how you can help.

Water To Waste Section Sixteen: Gratitude to our sponsors and links to more information.

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