More about Septic Systems

I have read quite a number of lake management studies. A lake whether it is a natural lake or a manmade lake or a simple impoundment, in time, can suffer from the effects of nutrient loading. After years of nutrient loading, particularly phosphorus and nitrates, the water reflects a change. The North American Lakes Association, NALMS, coined the phrase: A lake is a reflection of its watershed.

A lake can absorb a certain amount of nutrients before it begins to change for the worse. For example, at the lake where I live, in 1950, the clarity was 12 feet in July. By the mid 1980’s, the clarity had dropped to less than 3 feet. Now after many years of in- lake management measures (nutrient deactivation, aeration, etc.), the clarity is about 5 to 9 feet depending on whether there is an algae bloom. Despite the many efforts, improvement in clarity seems to have leveled off. Harmful algae blooms are a threat.
Most lakes that have a developed community within the watershed are having water quality problems. And to make a quantum improvement requires taking away the nutrient loading while still managing the in-lake phosphorus loading. Because lake property values hinge on the esthetics and recreational quality of the lake, maintaining the best possible water quality should be a top priority of lake associations. Sewering the lake would seem to be the best way to remove the septic influence phosphorus loading. But few states allow or have money to commit to installing sewers. Septic disposal systems unfortunately are here to stay for quite some time.
Another problem: septic systems are probably the most misunderstood “utilities” that are self-managed by the home owner. Conversely, wells and well water systems are better understood because we care about the water in which we drink and bath. Spending money to guarantee a pure water source is a health issue that requires top priority and surveillance. Well water should be tested routinely. There is no one responsible for quality control except the home owner. But what about that other utility we use every day? The unseen unobtrusive in-the-ground septic system that bears the responsibility of processing 15-35,000 gallons of contaminated water every year?

Much has been published about maintaining your septic system such as the Do’s and Don’ts of what can be put into the waste water system for instance. We know about the importance of not using strong detergents and chlorine based products that harm the good bacteria that process the organic input. We know about avoiding phosphorus containing cleaners too. We know we may have a problem if we see or smell any liquid resembling untreated waste water and we immediately call a septic contractor. If we do all these things and have the tank pumped every 2-3 years, our septic should not be a problem to the lake. Right? Wrong! There is an underlying environmental issue with septic systems. They are imperfect treatment systems.
Septic systems have a treatment system that is the absorption field. The imperfection occurs from various causes: where the field is located in proximity to the lake, the surrounding soils ability to treat, underground rock formation, water table, no aerobic soil over infiltration zone, type of soil for the absorption fill, and the age of the field are all factors that affect how well and how thoroughly the wastewater is treated. Although there seemingly is no smell or evidence of malfunction (definition of a properly functioning system by most health regulations,) the system is not treating (removing) all constituents of household waste water. The bacterial products are most effectively treated in the infiltration zone but the inorganic products of the septic tank’s anaerobic digestion of organic materials, can pass to the ground water zone beneath the field and proceed toward the lake. Nitrates move quickly and phosphates more slowly. Over time, phosphates, the leading cause of lake eutrophication, migrates to the lake as a non-point source of loading. Depending on the combination of septic system conditions described above, phosphorus from human waste become one of the major sources of the lake problem.
So how can we eliminate the phosphorus loading that is contributed by lake community septic systems? I have devoted the past 3-4 years developing my system of waste water conditioning. I have found that using alum in the correct amount can remove 90% of the total phosphorus, keep it in the septic tank so that the absorption field is nearly phosphorus free. This is almost as efficient as a sewer system, but a fraction of the cost.
My system that received a US Patent in January, would cost a home owner about the same as installing a well water chlorination system. The average cost to purchase and install such a system is about $1700. If you are impressed by this information or need more information, contact me, Paul Sutphen, Clear lake technology, LLC phone number 973-222-3450.

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