How to keep septic systems running smoothly

Nearly one-fifth of American households rely on septic systems to treat wastewater, and in rural areas such as the Mohican River basin, that number is even higher.

Unfortunately, when septic tanks are not properly maintained, they can back up, malfunction, and fail prematurely, leading to costly repairs. To prevent these problems and provide homeowners with failing septic tanks with the resources they need, the Ashland Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) is partnering with the Holmes SWCD, Ashland County Health Department, and Holmes General Health District to host a free Conservation Chat: Well-Fair Check on July 13 at the Loudonville Public Library.

The Mohican River was the only river in Ohio that failed to meet water quality standards in the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency's recent study. A 5-mile stretch of the river was deemed unhealthy due to over-aeration and sediment, according to the study. That means the water contains too much phosphorus and nitrogen.

The Ohio EPA has listed bacteria from defective residential wastewater treatment systems as a leading cause of damage in the Mohican River watershed, so properly maintained septic systems are important not only to individual homeowners, but also to the rest of the community and visitors to our area who enjoy our local waterways.

Have samples tested and learn more about healthy waters

This free event gives participants the opportunity to bring water samples from home to be analyzed for free and easily. The analysis will be performed by members of the Loudonville FFA Chapter.

Later in the afternoon, participants will have the opportunity to learn about water quality sampling and even get their first hands-on experience with the Ohio Scenic Rivers, learning what makes water bodies healthy and how to sample for macroinvertebrates.

Ohio is one of the few states that measures the health of water bodies by the number and types of fish and aquatic insects in the water bodies. High populations of fish and insects that tolerate pollution are indicators of unhealthy water bodies, while large populations of insects and fish that are sensitive to pollution can be an indication of a healthy water body.

Attendees will learn important steps to properly maintain septic tanks and extend their lifespan, and will also gain access to local resources that can help homeowners find resources and cost-sharing options.

Septic tank maintenance tips

For example, it is important to have a house's septic tank inspected by a licensed professional every three years and to have the tank pumped out every three to five years if necessary.

And while you may already know to avoid pouring cooking grease or oil down the sink or toilet, flushing coffee grounds down the sink, and pouring household chemicals down the sink, it's also recommended to avoid or limit the use of a garbage disposal.

Other tips include being careful not to overload the toilet. That is, do not flush non-biodegradable products or chemicals (feminine hygiene products, condoms, dental floss, diapers, cigarette butts, cat litter, paper towels, and medicines, for example) down the toilet. Use a trash can for these items instead.

Likewise, it's important not to concentrate your water usage on using the dishwasher, shower, washing machine and toilet all at once. All that extra water can really put a strain on your drains. Instead, stagger your use of these appliances and save water by fixing any leaky pipes. It's also a good idea to consider installing aerators and water-saving products for bathroom and kitchen faucets.

Do you know where your septic field is located? If not, your local health department may be able to help you determine the location by looking at your plumbing records. This will help you screen your field. Be careful not to park or drive on your septic field; the extra weight can damage the drain lines.

Also, don't plant trees or shrubs too close to your djainfield. The roots can grow into your system and clog it. Instead, consult a septic tank expert who can advise you on the correct distance to plant trees and shrubs, depending on the location of your septic tank.

To learn more about how to extend the life of your septic tank and to find resources to help you replace a failing tank, call Ashland SWCD at 419-281-7645 to register for the event. The event is free, but registration is required to ensure there are enough materials (and snacks!) on hand.

Jane Houin is director of the Ashland Soil & Water Conservation District.

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