While an improperly working septic system wreaks havoc on your home, it is even worse for the water surrounding your property—including surface and drinking water. But, how does water contamination occur? What does this mean for surface and drinking water supplies? Most importantly, what can you do to prevent contaminating your communities’ water supplies?
How Does Contamination Occur?
Contamination of water supply occurs when your septic system is overloaded, clogged or full of unnecessary and harmful chemicals.
Your septic system is not a garbage can. It is unable to handle and treat harsh chemicals, medicines, feminine hygiene products and other non-wastewater items. These unprocessed items will eventually leak into the surrounding soil and water supply.
Additionally, if the drainfield becomes overloaded or clogged with solids, it stops working. Instead of sending partially-treated wastewater through the soil for the final treatment, it pushes the water to the surface or back into the system.
What does this mean for the water surrounding your septic system?
Drinking Water Contamination
Private wells and septic systems often inhabit the same areas—pulling from and dumping into the same groundwater supplies. If you have an improperly working septic system, this is terrible news for your drinking water.
Cracks in well casings and well caps let in surface water—which is okay if partially-treated or untreated wastewater isn’t present.
Wells draw water from the water table, the first layer of water hit when digging a well, and groundwater supplies. If the well is located in the path of the septic system groundwater supply, contamination is more likely. Wells should be upstream of septic systems and ideally deeply dug to the bedrock layer. A shallow well in porous soil is the most vulnerable.
A general rule of thumb: the farther away, the safer. States regulate setback laws, the distance between your septic system and wells. In the state of Florida, septic systems must be a horizontal distance of 75ft away from potable wells and 50ft from non-potable wells. Additionally, there is a vertical setback of 24 inches from the bottom of drainfield to the water table.
It’s also important to test your well water annually to check and monitor quality. In Florida, testing of private wells are handled by the local health departments and cost $20-$30 when collecting samples yourself or $30-$40 to have them come and collect.
Surface Water Contamination
Streams, lakes and coastal waters downstream of septic systems groundwater flow are sitting ducks for contamination. While harsh chemicals wreak havoc, nutrients from partially-treated and untreated wastewater hurt surface water as well.
An excess of nutrients creates a breeding ground for fast-growing bacteria and algae, creating algae blooms. These blooms, also known as eutrophication, reduces the water quality, kills animals and plants and releases toxins into the water. Also, it’s bad news for humans who recreate, fish or use surface water in their homes as they are exposed to toxins as well. In addition, excesses of Nitrogen contribute and escalate this process.
Also like drinking water and wells, states impose setback laws helping prevent and reduce contamination. In Florida, all septic systems are required to be a horizontal distance of 75ft from surface water sources. While improperly working drainfields can still release contaminated wastewater into groundwater supplies, this protects immediate surface water supplies.
Protecting Water Near Septic Systems
Protecting the water surrounding your septic system doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, many of these preventative measures extend the life and health of your septic system too. Here is a list to get you started.
- Inspect your septic system regularly. Follow suggested maintenance plans.
- Go phosphate free. Switch out harsh cleaning products with their phosphate-free alternatives.
- Start composting. Stop using your garbage disposal for food scraps and instead compost them.
- Upgrade your system. Looking into advance treatments processes that reduce nitrogen and phosphate levels.
- Increase Setbacks. The farther away, the safer.
We all need water—it sustains life. But, contaminated water supplies can kill. Protect your community from water contamination from improperly working septic systems. Think you have an issue? Call Advanced Septic Services at 352-242-6100 today to schedule an inspection.