Wrestling with the Septic Denial

We all experience “denial” at some point in life. It can happen in all stages – raising children, working a career, settling into retirement – just growing older. Denial, from my perspective, is a psychological, sometimes stubborn, sometimes naive human characteristic. It’s with us throughout life. Unfortunately, denial can be a shield from reality and from the facts. Once enlightened, denial disappears like a curtain being drawn open.

Why the title involving “septic denial”? Because my personal experience in communicating a message to people regarding the unexciting topic of septic systems and their effect on water bodies and lakes, and linking a problem with its cause results in most cases – a reaction of “denial”. People cringe at the word septic system. OK, you can call them on-site waste water treatment system. Whatever you call them, they do not inspire a “tell me more” inquiry.

The septic system causal facts lie out of sight within the ground and the ground water. So unknown to most, what happens out of sight becomes out of mind. For many years, living in homes served by septic systems, I too flushed and forgot. It was only later in life when my memory told me that the lake at my doorstep has changed dramatically over time. This change did not occur quickly. Lake people whose time spent living at a lake for a shorter span of time may not realize any change at all. I’ve been told by some, “What’s wrong, the lake has looked the same for the last 20 years!”
It becomes very difficult to convince people who are denying there is a connection between their activity and the lake water quality. If pressed, there can be offered other surrogate reasons such as storm water impact, fertilizer impact, or somebody’s septic system elsewhere that has failed. These can be plausible reasons but typically focused away from “my septic system” or what part my septic plays in the big picture. Maybe the influence of “my septic” is small but nevertheless significant. To varying degrees, everyone’s septic in a lake community has a role in how the lake water quality is affected, i.e. harmful algae blooms and amped up aquatic plant growth.

I think some of the dilemma arises from unawareness plus helplessness. Let me explain. Why should I spend thousands of dollars to replace the leach field in my 45 year old system? There is no outward sign it has failed. And by definition of most health codes, if wastewater passes through the ground without bubbling to the surface, the system is not malfunctioning –at least from a bacteriological perspective. But from a nutrient treatment perspective, the 45 year old soil has exhausted its capability to retain phosphorus. Eventually, the phosphorus, enters ground water and migrates to the lake water body where it stimulates growth.
If we don’t do something to reverse this stealthy affect, the lake will continue to receive the influence of nutrients from our septic systems and continue its path down worsening eutrophication. This was the main inspiration for my developing the Wastewater Conditioning System (WCS) that reduces septic influence to lakes.

Paul Sutphen

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *