Oh you haven't noticed that? Maybe you should.
although most Americans don't realize it, we are facing a sewage treatment crisis and
sooner or later we will all have to start dealing with it. However
sewage is not a sexy environmental subject so you seldom hear about it
on the evening news...but just because you don't hear about it doesn't
mean it isn't happening.
|The status of septic systems in America
||The status of treatment facilities in America
Relatively speaking, it has only been recently
that states have begun addressing septic systems (many still aren't).
Although record keeping is spotty at best, approximately 28%
of the homes in this country use some type of on-site system and the
number is going up by 500,000+ every year. Unfortunately a large
portion of them (even new ones) are not up to code and a potential source of pollution.
Up until the
1970’s the common method of installing a system was to dig them deep to
avoid direct contact with humans. What no one realized at the time was
many of these systems were so deep that they were often
discharging untreated waste directly into the underground water
tables and these water tables are what supply the lakes, rivers and
As the state
water agencies realized this engineering error they
began outlawing the use of these deep systems in favor of shallow systems
(which they found actually treated wastewater better than a
multimillion dollar treatment facility). But there were a few
problems with how this problem was dealt with:
Not all states considered this an important issue
and put it on the back burner. In fact many states are still
treating this as a low-level problem which further confuses the
situation. For example; if you are going to sell your home in
a few states/counties you must bring the septic system up to current code before
you can transfer the property. Yet move across the state/county line there
may be no such requirement and you
could find out shortly after moving in that the septic system is
failing and does not meet today’s codes, and as the new owner you
will be responsible to pay for that new system.
Something very few bothered to address was when
the codes changed it technically made those deep systems illegal.
However many (including health depts.) have operated under the
assumption that these older systems were grandfathered in and they
would never need to be upgraded. In fact most of these officials
are shocked to learn that other states and counties are now mandating
Research has brought septic systems to a new
level of sophistication, yet many states are not aware of these
design and material improvements and are still using outdated
Conversely some states have now put so many
restrictions on septic systems that they have driven up the costs to
$20,000, $30,000 even $40,000. Being a cost effective ($5,000 to
$15,000) solution is one of the benefits of using a septic system,
however at these costs it is on par with a centralized treatment
What makes this
even more difficult is the fact that the septic industry is the most
fragmented of all the building trades. Electricians, plumbers,
carpenters and masons have national codes and standards they must
follow, but when it comes to septic systems it is up to each state, even
county to decide what the requirements will be and how they will be
enacted. And because of this lack of consistency fixing the problem is
going to be a major nightmare.
treatment plants are not without their share of problems either. Most
people (and community leaders) are under the impression that sewage
treatment facilities are these high-tech modern marvels that will take
in highly contaminated wastewater in one end and 10 minutes later spit
out crystal clear drinking water. This is wrong.
facilities reduce the contaminates in wastewater, not eliminate it. The
truth is cities all across the country are fined millions of dollars
every year because they have exceeded the limits determined safe and
discharged millions of gallons of contaminated water into the
waterways. This contamination has lead to thousands of beach closings
every year and is contributing to Red Tide outbreaks (among other
environmental/health concerns) in coastal areas.
From 1995 to 2005 the health and
environmental damage to our coastal areas, waterways and lakes went up
almost 600%!!! That should tell you something about the
effectiveness of these treatment plants.
By the way, guess
who pays these fines…you do with your tax and treatment fee dollars.
happen because the operators of these plants aren’t doing their job; it
happens because most of these facilities are now hopelessly overloaded
and in need of major updating. But this process takes millions of
dollars, again paid for by your tax and treatment fee dollars.
Everyone wants clean water...but no
one wants to pay for it. At the same time people are too busy to
pay attention to what solutions are available.
The bottom line is, as cities
continue to grow sooner or later almost every community in the country
will be facing these questions:
Expand the current sewage
treatment facility to accommodate the outlying homes.
Build a new sewage treatment
facility to accommodate those outlying homes.
Let these homes stay on septic
systems (but upgrade them).
The direction you take will depend
on how knowledgeable you are...if you ignore the issue you may not like
the choices others make for you.
Take my word for it, over the next
few years millions of Americans are going to be saying, "I voted for you
to look out for me. Just who in the hell are you working for?"
You don't want to be in that group
and the key is to learn!
EDUCATION SEPTIC SEMINARS
classes are performed for homeowners and are usually sponsored by the
local Health Depts. Zoning Offices, Lake Associations, Homeowner
Associations and/or local governments. In most cases it is the
homeowners that get these classes started because they are the ones that
will benefit from them...or lose without them.
1995, Ken Olson of the University of Minnesota Extension Service started
a community education program for homeowners in the Twin Cities metro
area. Follow-up studies have shown virtually 100% of the people that
attend these classes make changes in their life-styles to protect their
systems and a large percentage voluntarily replace/repair their failing
systems. Requests from small communities outside the metro area and in
other states proved the nation-wide need for this educational process.
Having worked with the Extension Service on various educational
programs, Jim vonMeier volunteered to take this a step further by
working with Health Depts. and communities performing these classes in
other parts of the country. These agencies/groups welcome the help and
have said this [educational process] is long over-due. Many have also
stated homeowners seem to listen to an outside source more readily than
a local source.
These 2-hour classes teach homeowners the health, environmental and
financial damages failing septic systems have caused, what a proper
system is, and how to use and maintain those systems. Because of the
number of questions from the audience these classes run 2½-3 hours.
need and support for this education is obvious. Many have stated
waiting [years] for individual states and communities to organize and
implement these programs would be counterproductive, financially
devastating, and an un-necessary source of environmental damage. A
common statement homeowners make is, “This is so simple. Why didn’t
someone tell me this before my system failed?” A common statement from
the health and zoning officials is, "Even we were not aware of many of
the things you talked about."
(when applicable) in these seminars is whether to run the city sewer
lines out to neighborhoods. Unfortunately many communities have made
this choice and soon come to regret the decision. The costs always seem
to go higher than projected and the environmental problems increase.
this problem without taking either side, rather he outlines the steps
the community should follow to determine what the best solution would
Program Objective: To show homeowners that
properly designed, installed and maintained septic systems are better
for the environment and less expensive than sewage treatment facilities,
but they must be properly used and maintained. Course Outline:
Explain the difference between disposal of waste water and
Explain how soils naturally perform the treatment process.
The history and evolution of septic systems.
How a septic system functions.
What causes them to fail.
What steps can be taken to prevent a failure.
Environmentally safe methods that may rejuvenate a failed
When applicable, focus on how small communities can map out
a plan of action to deal with sewage treatment and show them how
not to get taken to the cleaners...a very common occurrence with
These classes are scheduled for 2 hours. Many will
run 2½ to 3 hours depending on the number of questions.
the demonstrated interest and the needed component of ongoing education,
we would like to have you back in the summer as a follow-up to your
Click here to download community education brief (pdf)
Click here to e-mail
Jim vonMeier for more information
or call 1-763-856-3800
|"I want to thank you for an
invaluable contribution to the health and welfare of our
citizens through the recent seminar you conducted here on septic
||"Thanks to you, I believe we
have a new perspective on the importance of proper design, use
and maintenance of our systems."
|"You certainly have an art in
making a rather unmentionable subject extremely interesting,
informative, and even humorous."
||"Your educational class is a
great tool for bringing an "out-of-sight, out-of-mind" subject
to the forefront in a simple, understandable format."
|"Thank you again for your
time and effort in coming to our rural region. It was greatly
appreciated by all."
||"We have had many requests
for information about your educational programs, which we
continue to distribute."
|"It was very rewarding to see
more than 250 people turn out to be educated on what they could
do to improve their lake."
||"The program you presented
was outstanding. It contained so much new information, and it
was amazing how much the audience just wanted to hear more and
More educational materials
You have an Owners Manual for your car, now you can have one for your
One of the best educational publications
available to homeowners is the SEPTIC SYSTEM OWNER’S GUIDE by the
University of Minnesota Extension Service. This owner’s manual shows you
how your system operates, how to properly use it and what you should
know about maintenance.
You can order the OWNER’S GUIDE ($4 + $2
shipping) directly from the University by calling 1-800-876-8636 and
asking for order #PC-6583-OF2. Or you can order it from us by calling
If you want a more in-depth book (160 pages)
that covers designs as well as history, you may want to get the Septic
System Owner's Manual. This book is well written and humorous. At
$14.95 + $3.95 for shipping it could be well worth it. Call
1-800-307-0131 or visit