On-Site Sewage Disposal

On-site sewage systems or septic tank systems are used in the United States by over a third of all homes. They are predominantly the main means of disposal of liquid waste in rural areas and in many suburban areas. The homes may be spaced at a sizable distance from each other or in housing developments use may be located away from normal public sewer pipes and outlets. As people move into more distant areas from central cities and towns the need for individual sewage systems continues to increase. Immediately after World War II with the return of the service people from abroad and discharge from the Armed Forces, the individuals married and started to create new families leading to a population explosion and a need for considerably more housing. With the advent of the Interstate Highway System, it was now possible to live outside of the core city and still get to work in a reasonable period of time. This led to the development of large tracts of farmland which used to support a single septic tank system and well for many acres of land and now had to support hundreds of septic tank systems and wells, resulting in massive on-site sewage system failures because the soil was simply not able to accept the high levels of liquid being produced. The soil became clogged as the natural fauna had been removed and replaced by houses; and the individuals who were city bred had no idea about the proper usage of water in this type of situation and overtaxed the sewage systems as well as the wells. Water softeners were frequently added as well as garbage disposal units and each of these systems had a serious effect on the on-site sewage disposal process. In colder climates, there were potential problems of freezing of these systems because of lack of snow cover, compacted soils, lack of plant cover, and pipes not draining properly. Of great significance was the type of soil being used for disposal of the sewage effluent, such as sand versus clay, and the necessity for proper permits from the local health departments to ensure that new on-site sewage disposal systems would be constructed properly. Recognize that the standard mentioned earlier utilized in Oakland County, Michigan of 1 acre of land per three-bedroom house and 1.25 acres of land per four-bedroom house helped to alleviate part of the problems of disposal of the on-site sewage if the soil allowed it, water usage was contained, garbage disposal units were not used, and maintenance of the system was performed on a regular basis. (See endnote 14.)

(See Chapter 11, “Sewage Disposal Systems” for further information and Best Practices in developing new systems as well as maintaining and rejuvenating old systems.)

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