The sun is shining, the Iditarod sled dog race is over, and the snow is melting again. It is that time of year when we all see the runoff filling streams and ditches, but elevated water levels below the surface can pose a threat to underground utilities such as septic system drain fields. Today’s regulations require all septic drain fields be designed a minimum of 4 feet above the high groundwater level but this does not guarantee that the groundwater or surface runoff will not encroach into the area. Proper grade over septic systems is essential to keep water from flowing to or on septic systems. Surface runoff and ponding over a septic drain field can influence the operation of your on-site wastewater system.
Unfortunately, the property owner will not notice this until there is a problem. In severe cases when the drain field has become flooded with groundwater, it can no longer absorb septic effluent from the septic tank and backups into the house can occur. A messy and costly situation no one wants to find themselves facing at anytime.
Here are some tips on handling the cleanup of such a situation: First stop draining any more water from the house and call a septic pumping company to drain the septic tank. Once the tank is empty you will be able to start draining the water in the house. The Municipality of Anchorage suggests using a wet/dry vacuum to pick up as much of the spill as possible followed by a common sanitizer such as chlorine. Concentrations need to be 100 ppm (1/2 tablespoon of chlorine bleach for each gallon of water) for solid surfaces and equipment and 200 ppm (1 tablespoon of chlorine bleach for each gallon of water) for walls and floors. For areas with absorbent covering such as carpet, after the initial cleanup, the material must be disposed of in a landfill or a professional cleaner can clean and sanitize the floor and carpet.
Depending on the contour of your property there is the possibility of an overflow from the drain field outside before it reaches a backup in the house. Again the first steps are to stop using the water and call a septic pumper to empty the septic tank to delay any more effluent to the drain field area. Most of the septic pumpers also have the proper equipment to clean up the spillage on the ground. Once the contaminated area is visibly clean, a chlorine solution with 5% chlorine (straight Clorox or equal) or hydrated lime (available from mill and feed stores) should be spread liberally on the contaminated area to disinfect.
NOTE: When applying hydrated lime or chlorine it is important to contain these disinfectants to the spill area only. More specific information can be obtained from the MOA On-Site Division at 907-343-7904.