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Underground Sewer

Septic System Operations

A septic system is a sewage treatment and disposal system buried in the ground.  It is composed of a septic tank and a leach field or trench.  Household sewage (wastewater from sinks, toilets, showers, washing machines, garbage grinders, and dishwashers)  generally flows by gravity into the septic tank.  There, heavier particles settle to the bottom and scum rises to the top.  Bacteria in the tank help break down some of the solids.


The sludge and scum remain in the tank, and the effluent (liquid) flows to the leach field, where it is distributed over crushed gravel or absorbent soil.

As the sludge level increases, more solids escape into the absorption area.  If too much sludge accumulates, no settling occurs before the sewage flows to the soil absorption area.  To prevent this, the solids in the tank must be pumped periodically.  Septic tanks will not fall immediately if they are not pumped.  However, an un-maintained septic tank is no longer protecting the soil absorption field from solids.  Continued neglect may result in system failure and even replacement of the soil absorption field.


Additional Tips

Where can I find more information on septic systems?


  • Inspect your tank for signs of sludge buildup and make sure the baffles and tees are in working order

  • Pump your tank as needed (every 2-3) years for year-round residents, and every 4-5 years for seasonal residences), and keep a written record for yourself or the future owner

  • Compost food garbage or put it in the trash

  • Keep grease can handy

  • Mark your septic system so you can protect it from vehicles and encroaching trees and shrubs

  • Conserve water; install water-saving devices, such as low flow faucet and showerheads

  • Use non-toxic cleaning products such as baking soda to clean toilets, or boiling water to help clear clogged drains.

  • Plant shrubs, trees, and grasses downhill from your system to act as a sponge.  It will tie up excess nutrients and water as well as prevent soil erosion.

Do's and Don't

Where can I find more information on septic systems?

Purdue’s Home and Environment Site has some good information.


What are some things I can do to prevent septic problems?

• Don’t use a garbage disposal, it adds 50% more solids to your system

• Don’t pour automotive oil, cooking oil or grease down the drain

• Don’t drive vehicles over the septic system or leach field

• Don’t plant bushes or trees over the leach field

• Don’t use phosphorous detergents

• Don’t use too much water, especially during rainy, wet seasons when the ground is saturated

• Don’t pour paint or paint thinner into your sink (let it air dry then throw it out in the trash)

• Don’t use chemical or biological septic systems cleaners which can plug up leach fields and ruin your system

• Don’t wait, if your septic system shows signs of problems, act immediately!

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