Domestic Sewage FAQs

I have a septic system. What maintenance does it need?
One of the most important things you can do to keep the system functioning properly is to have the septic tank pumped regularly by a certified professional. Scum and/or sludge could build up and be carried to the drainfield if the tank is not pumped regularly. This will clog the drainfield and not allow wastewater to be treated. Wastewater may form a pond in the yard or back up into the house. At that point you are probably facing costly repairs or replacement instead of minimal maintenance expenses.

How often should the septic tank be pumped?
Several factors determine tank-pumping frequency, including the number of people living in the home, water usage and whether a garbage disposal is used. Many experts recommend pumping a tank every two to three years. Depending on the factors listed above, a tank may need to be pumped more or less frequently. A safe approach is to have the tank checked annually until it is determined that pumping is required. Once the pumping interval is established, use that standard until there is a change in water use patterns. Additional people living in the home, children becoming teenagers, the installation of a garbage disposal, or the addition of a whirlpool tub could all increase water usage and wastewater generation. Conversely, fewer people living in the home could decrease water use and wastewater generation.

How can I tell if my drainfield is failing?
According to NDEQ Title 124, the rules and regulations covering onsite wastewater treatment systems, a system is failing if there is "unauthorized discharge of wastewater or effluent (from the septic tank) on the ground surface, to a cesspool, seepage pit, dry well, or leaching pit." You have a problem with your drainfield if wastewater is surfacing. When the soil in the drainfield area can't take on the wastewater, you'll see wastewater pond above the drainfield, or wastewater may surface at the end of a trench. Worse yet is if wastewater backs up into your basement or plumbing fixtures. These are obvious signs of a failing system. Another type of failure is when the wastewater isn't treated properly. Going back to Nebraska Title 124, a system is also failing if there is unauthorized discharge "to an absorption system with less than 4 feet to groundwater or other limiting soil characteristics; or which threatens to cause pollution of any air, water, or land of the State; or which threatens public health."

Who can install, pump, or repair an onsite system, such as a residential wastewater lagoon or septic system?
In Nebraska, a Registered Environmental Health Specialist, a professional engineer, a professional certified by exam through the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality or someone working under their supervision can work on an onsite wastewater treatment system. The NDEQ website contains a listing of certified professionals.

Should I use additives in my septic or residential lagoon system?
Septic systems and residential wastewater lagoon systems are biological systems; they depend upon bacteria and other organisms in the system to treat wastewater. These microorganisms are naturally occurring in wastewater whenever you flush a toilet, and in the soil beneath the drainfield. Research has shown little benefit to using additives in systems, and therefore they are not recommended. However, more research is needed about the use of additives to a system that receives strong pharmaceuticals such as from occupants receiving chemotherapy or strong antibiotics. Do not use additives that claim to eliminate the need to pump the septic tank. These may keep solids in suspension, and allow them to flow out to the drainfield where they can cause clogging and failure.

Our lagoon smells in the spring and fall. Should I be concerned?
Normally, a lagoon does not smell, except for a few weeks in the spring and fall when the water "turns over" due to the change in temperature. Therefore, this is probably a normal occurrence.

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