Septic systems are a type of wastewater treatment designed to service homes or businesses in rural areas, where sanitary sewer hookups are not available. They typically consist of a septic tank(s) for solid waste, and a “drainfield” to distribute liquid waste (effluent) into the ground. The goal of this process is to allow microbial activity to break down solids, while wastewater slowly filters through the surrounding stone and soil. When designed and installed correctly, septic systems can adequately treat effluent before it reenters a nearby water source.
Why are working systems important?
Unfortunately, when septic systems fail, they can have major health and water quality impacts. Michigan is the only state in the U.S. without its own septic code. It is estimated that there are about 1.4 million septic systems throughout the state, and around 10-20% of those could be in “failing” condition. If the system is undersized, placed within the seasonal high-water table, or is structurally failing due to lack of maintenance, it could be contributing excess nutrients, household chemicals, or harmful E. coli bacteria into the ground or nearby surface waters. Many Michigan watersheds, including several in Ottawa County, have high concentrations of human E. coli, due in part, to failing septic systems.
The Ottawa Conservation District encourages landowners to be proactive about the health of their septic systems, and to follow basic maintenance guidelines such as having your system pumped out and inspected every 3-5 years. If you are having issues such as sewage backups, slow draining, standing water in your yard, or foul odors near your septic system, you should contact the Ottawa County Environmental Health Department to identify and remediate the issue. If you live in the Bass River or Deer Creek Watersheds you may be eligible for cost-share funding (up to 75%) to repair or replace your system through a Michigan EGLE grant called the Bass River and Deer Creek Restoration Project. Follow the link for more information on this program.