Both Owen and Clay counties, being rural areas, have a high percentage of homes with septic systems rather than public sanitary sewer systems. In Indiana, more than one-third of all homes are on septic systems also known as private onsite waste disposal systems. If a truck must drive into the yard to pump a septic tank, dry periods during late summer or fall or frozen ground during the winter minimizes yard damage. Most people don't really want to think about the home septic system as it is really not a pleasant nor a favorite home responsibility to consider. There are also many false beliefs and misconceptions regarding septic systems. For instance some believe that septic tanks should never need pumped out if the system is working properly thereby maintaining an adequate level of bacteria. This is not true. In fact the bacterial and chemical additives that are available for purchase may hinder septic systems.
Many of the soils in Clay and Owen counties are wet and particularly in Owen County are shallow to limestone, shale or have sink holes. This compromises the functioning and life expectancy of septic systems. The single most important maintenance item for the homeowner with a septic system is to regularly have the tank pumped out to prolong the life of the system. The frequency for pumping out a tank depends on the particular system but should occur at least once every five years. If the septic field is older and smaller relative to the number of individuals living in the home or if soils tend to be wet, then it might be prudent to pump the tank every two to three years. It is best to avoid or limit garbage disposal use. However if a garbage disposal is regularly used this would increase the need for more frequent pump outs of the septic tank. For my personal situation, I have our tanked pumped out every two to three years since the soil is somewhat marginal for septic systems due to wetness.
I am sure there is someone out there reading this that will say, "Well I have never had my tank pumped out and it has been there for thirty years without any problems." There are some lucky people who get by without pumping out tanks for extended periods of time. However, for any system, pumping out the tank will extend the life and performance of the system. Personally, I consider the cost of pumping out the tank which typically ranges from $200 to not more than $300 to be cheap compared to the cost of installing a new system for $7,500 or more. If an alternative site is not readily available and a special system with pumps or a mound system is required, the cost could easily rise to more than $12,000. Typically septic systems fail during times of wetness during the winter or spring or during an event of high use when there are people visiting or one is trying to catch up on laundry for example. Sewage backup in the home or effluent in the yard is an expensive and highly undesirable method of finding septic system problems. One nice feature about living in the country is that there is not a monthly sewer bill. However this benefit could be negated in a hurry with a septic system replacement due to premature failure of an existing system due to lack of maintenance.
There are several reasons why one may have a septic system problem. If you would like more information regarding septic operation and maintenance, visit http://www.ces.purdue.edu/henv/SepticSys... or contact the Extension office. There are several reputable soil scientists in the area that can help with onsite evaluations for new homes or wisdom for purchasing existing homes. For questions related to septic onsite requirements, permits, and design requirements contact the local Health Department at 829-5017 in Owen County or 448-9021 in Clay County. Also the local county Soil and Water Conservation District is a good soil information resource (829-2605 in Owen and 448-1108 x3 in Clay).
You can contact the local Purdue Extension Office by calling 829-5020 x14 in Owen County or 448-9041 in Clay County for more information or publication copies regarding this week's column topic or to RSVP for upcoming events. Also check out our website at www.ces.purdue.edu and click on "county offices" at the top left and proceed to click on the appropriate county on the state map. It is always best to call first to assure items are ready when you arrive and to RSVP for programs. While most publications are free, some do have a fee. All times listed are Eastern Time.
Aug. 7 Owen County Farmers Market Planning, Spencer, 7 p.m.
Aug. 8-19 Indiana State Fair
Aug. 9 Parke County Vegetable Growers Tour
Aug. 16 Owen Co. Ag Economic Development Initiative, 8 a.m.
Aug. 18 Indiana Aquaculture Assoc. Program, Floyd County
Aug. 21 SWCD Conservation Expo, Clay County
Aug. 20 I-69 Planning Meeting, Eastern Greene HS, 7 p.m.
Aug. 21 I-69 Planning Meeting, Morgan Co. Admin Bldg, 1 p.m.
Aug. 21 I-69 Planning Meeting, Bloomington North HS, 6 p.m.
Aug. 23 Poison Prevention Workshop, Methodist Hospital, 12:30 p.m.
Aug. 24 Alternative Sewer System Workshop, Vermillion Co.; 10 a.m.
Aug. 28 Clay Co. Ag Economic Development Initiative, 10 a.m.
Sept. 5 Farm Bureau Drainage School, Indy, 9 a.m.
Sept. 5 Purdue Forage Management Workshop, West Lafayette
Sept. 13 Ag Outlook Breakfast, Brazil, 8 a.m.
Sept. 18 Riverwatch Training, Bloomington
Sept. 19 Poison Prevention Workshop, Methodist Hospital, 12:30 p.m.
Sept. 27-29 State Master Gardener Conference, Evansville