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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Understanding septic systems

Thursday, May 12, 2011

There are a high percent of homes in Clay and Owen counties 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.

The majority of these systems consist of a septic tank and soil absorption field. Ultimately, they rely on the soil to remove all contaminants.

Treated effluent that flows from the septic tank is further broke down by the soil through chemical, physical and biological processes. The interaction of contaminants with soil mineral surfaces is part of the chemical treatment.

The relationship of the minerals to pore space in the soil acts like a filter during the physical treatment.

Naturally occurring microorganisms in the soil feed on the organic contaminants in the effluent as part of the biological process.

Each of those processes must work properly in order to help prevent septic system problems from occurring.

One potential way to prevent a septic system problem from occurring is by locating your soil absorption field in a large area that contains deep, well-drained soil. Unfortunately, many of the soils in Clay and Owen counties are wet and particularly in Owen County, are shallow because of limestone or shale.

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 a garbage disposal is regularly used, this would increase the need for more frequent pump outs of the septic tank.

Often, homeowners will notice color differences in the grass over their septic system absorption fields. It is important to take notice of these differences because they can tell you a little bit about your septic system.

In warmer months (or dry periods), the grass may turn brown and appear burned. This is due to a lack of water holding capacity in the soil above the absorption field. Luckily, this is only an indication of an aesthetic problem and your septic system is probably working as designed.

However, if you notice unusually green grass stripes over your absorption field, you are seeing signs of a stressed septic system. That system is potentially failing or is likely to fail during months of heavy rainfall.

If you would like more information regarding septic operation and maintenance, visit http://www.ces.purdue.edu/henv/SepticSys.... There are several reputable soil scientists in the area that can help with onsite evaluations for new homes or offer wisdom to those purchasing existing homes.

For questions related to septic onsite requirements, permits and design requirements, contact your local health department.

As always, if you have any questions or would like information on any agriculture, horticulture, or natural resource topic, then please contact your local Purdue Extension Office at 448-9041 in Clay County or 812-829-5020 in Owen County, or reach me directly at smith535@purdue.edu.

Purdue University is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative action institution.

Upcoming opportunities available to you through Purdue Extension include:

* May 18 -- Owen County Homemaker Lesson on attracting birds, 10:30 a.m.,

* May 19 -- Owen County Conservationist Class, 6:30-7:30 p.m., Owen County Library,

* May 21 -- Hardwood Ecosystem Experiment Forest Tour, 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Martinsville. Cost is $5. Call 765-342-1010 to register (limited seating),

* May 25 -- Goat Workshop, 6-7:30 p.m., Owen Valley FFA Goat Farm. RSVP to 812-829-5020 by May 23, and

* May 30 -- Extension Office closed. Memorial Day.