Free seminar offers tips on care and maintenance of your septic system

·4 min read

If you live in a rural area, there’s a very good chance you’ve got a septic field on your property. Your quality of life depends on it working well, and if it should cause problems, it can cost thousands of dollars to fix.

Despite that, most people almost never think about their septic system, and do little, if anything, to properly care for it, says an organization that represents companies in the septic system industry.

“We live in an ‘F-and-F Society’ – Flush and Forget,” says Lesley Desjardins, the executive director of the Western Canada Onsite Wastewater Management Association (WCOWMA). “As long as it goes away, people think it’s working… that’s a little bit of a simplistic attitude, but very common.”

That’s why Desjardin’s group is organizing ‘Septic Awareness Week’ from September 19 to 23.

“It’s not exactly dinner-table conversation, so it’s a situation of benign neglect,” she says of septic system maintenance. “You wouldn’t think twice of taking your car in for an oil change, but you don’t think to have your septic system checked once a year to make sure things are working properly.”

So while you’re trying to bring in your harvest, cut wood for the winter, or get the kids settled in school, WCOWMA hopes you’ll spend a few hours learning about your septic system, as well.

“Just because it flushes, where is it going? Is it actually working? The bulk of the treatment actually takes place in the soil. So is that happening?” she says people should ask themselves. “Are we in the position of potentially polluting an aquifer, a waterway or water source? We want to take care of that system so that none of those scenarios occur.”

Properly designed and maintained systems effectively reduce or eliminate most human health or environmental threats posed by pollutants in household wastewater, says WCOWMA. However, they require regular maintenance, or they will not operate properly.

“The role of that falls to the homeowner, because ultimately once the system has been designed and installed, the homeowner has control over how it’s utilized, whether it is maintained, and if it’s functioning as intended,” she says.

Struggling septic systems are expensive to repair or replace. Septic systems need to be monitored regularly to ensure that they are functioning properly and to ensure a lengthy service life. With one in four Canadians reliant on septic fields to manage waste they produce, there are likely thousands of systems that are failing, or are in ill health.

To help you to learn more about your septic field, WCOWMA is hosting a series of free webinars to share operating tips and information on the importance of maintaining septic systems.

“There’s this misconception that septic systems are all about the piping,” Desjardins says. “You glue a bunch of pipes together, put it into trenches, put it in the ground and you are done,” she says. “But it’s not like a garbage bag we can toss and forget. We’re not actually tossing anything away. We are reintroducing waste material into the environment, and it will eventually go back into the water table.”

So participants of the webinar will get basic information about the water cycle, how treatment actually occurs in the soil, and challenges that can impact your system. They’ll also learn what regular maintenance you should be doing, and how to operate it properly – for instance, what should or shouldn’t go down the drain.

Spoiler alert: don’t put flushable wipes, hygiene products, medications, paints or solvents into your septic field. They can kill your system very quickly, Desjardin says.

But there are other, more surprising tips as well.

“People doing home kidney dialysis – that pumps a whole bunch of disinfectant used in the process and excess water,” she says. “Systems aren’t designed to handle that much water. Also water softeners, iron filters, and reverse osmosis systems don’t cause pollution per se, but they can cause a huge stress on the system. Systems aren’t designed to manage that much water.”

The organization will also provide homeowner manuals and logs to keep track of maintenance.

“Another misconception is having your system pumped is all the maintenance you require,” she says. “That’s a huge part of it, but septic systems may have a pump, floats that need to be checked, filters that need cleaning, a high-water alarm to protect your system from backing into the house.”

The organization also offers suggestions on who to go to when you have problems – because if your system dies, it can get pretty ugly pretty quick.

“You’re sitting in your barcalounger watching a hockey game, when all of a sudden you’re floating in a sea of ‘brown trout,’” she says. “That can happen if you don’t take care of your system. It’s a huge expense and terrible situation to be in, but it can happen if we don’t take care of it.”

Dates and times for the webinars can be found on the WCOWMA website,

John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice