SEPTIC TANK MAINTENANCE
A properly designed, properly installed septic system can be the safest, most economical way to treat wastewater . . . If it is properly used and maintained!
Like changing the oil in a car, regular inspection and pump out of septic tanks will ensure reliable operation and greatly prolong the useful life of the system.
Neglect can result in:
- Serious health risks for your family and neighbors
- Costly repairs including digging and replacing your entire drain field
- Loss of safe drinking water and safe recreation through contamination of wells and waterways.
Inadequately treated sewage contains disease causing bacteria and viruses, as well as an unhealthy amount of nitrate and other chemicals. Misuse or neglect of your system may cause blockages, overflow of inside plumbing, and/or noxious seepage of effluent around outside drain fields.
A saturated drain field may have to be replaced at a cost of several thousands of dollars and may require the home be abandoned until repairs are complete. The alternative to such a nightmare is:
- Avoid overloading your system
- Divert down spouts and surface run-off away from the drain field
- Repair any leaking faucets or toilets
- Do laundry over several days
- Conserve water by not letting it run while brushing, rinsing dishes, etc.
- Have the system inspected by a licensed contractor at least every two years and pumped as needed (depending on size and use, pumping every 3-6 years is usually required).
Additional Important Cautions:
Don’t use a garbage disposal, or at least limit its use, and never use your toilet or sink drain as a trash can! Flush only toilet paper and bodily elimination, never grease, oil, paint, chemicals, personal paper products and no septic tank additives. The bacteria needed to treat wastewater is naturally present in sewage. Additives can re-suspend solids and clog the drain field.
Don’t dig in your drainfield or build anything over it. Never drive over your drainfield or otherwise compact the soil in any way. Note the location of your septic tank and drain field. Your county office should also have a record.
Keep your septic tank cover accessible for inspections and pumping. Install risers with lids if needed. Plant only grass over or near drain fields to avoid clogging by tree or shrub roots.
Call a licensed contractor or your county health department if you have trouble with your system.
Lake Keowee is prized for the clean, clear blue water that everyone loves! Keeping it that way requires everyone living on or close to Lake Keowee to be good stewards of their landscape environment.
Why be concerned?
Lake Keowee’s shores are rapidly being developed, and there is room for another 10,000+ homes—each a potential source of run-off that could contain chemicals, bacteria or nutrients from pets or septic systems; oil from autos, roadways or roofing; and silt from eroding soils. All of these adversely affect water quality.
Create buffers between homes, driveways and the lake. Nature does a wonderful job of creating buffers. These vegetated strips of land or green belts along the lakeshore stabilize the soil, slow, store and filter run-off, collect sediment, digest wastes, chemicals and other pollutants while providing wildlife habitat and adding to scenic beauty.
Where possible, natural buffers should be left undisturbed and encouraged to thrive. Where landscaping is developed, the following practices will produce the best results for the homeowner and the lake.
- Buffer Size
Wider is better, but anything helps. A 25-foot buffer will typically remove 50% or more of pollutants. South Carolina recommends a 35-foot minimum and more on steep terrain.
- A Buffer should include:
Protecting and adding to a diverse mix of native, unmanaged grasses, shrubs and deep rooted trees will work best. Avoid any that require fertilizer, pesticides or frequent watering. Improve the soil by tilling in organic matter and protect new beds with ample mulch of shredded bark.
- A Buffer should exclude:
Surfaces that do not absorb water should be minimized: no shelters, decks or patios. Pathways essential for shoreline access should be kept narrow and winding. Invasive, noxious plants like kudzu, poison ivy and brambles can, of course, be removed. If herbicides must be used, choose rapid, biodegradable types.
Drainage and erosion control
Concentrations of run-off from drives, down spouts and swales should be dispersed well back on the water’s edge to allow absorption into the soil. Eliminate bare spots. Undulate and stabilize swales. Exposed shore can be protected with stone rip-rap or, preferably, restored with selected native plants anchored in mats, bio-logs and rock. The latter will provide both erosion control and a natural buffer strip.
Open corridors for views can be included in buffers, often adding a picturesque “frame” to the scene. Lower branches of tall trees can be trimmed. Bedding and understory plants can be selected for moderate height
Lawns should be kept well back from the shoreline. Lawns can be overwhelmed by heavy run-off and may require chemical treatment or supplemental watering. Even if chemicals are not used, visible lawns may encourage replication. A lawn is not a helpful buffer.
Knowledgeable landscapers and nurseries can provide water-friendly landscape designs, plant selection and installation services.
FOLKS volunteers measure water clarity, nutrient content and contaminants on a regular basis, providing early warning of potential issues in Lake Keowee. While DHEC monitors Lake Keowee water quality periodically, only FOLKS maintains on-going water testing programs.
Clarity readings have been taken since 1994 and indicate a significant correlation between rainfall and clarity depth. The primary factor in clarity is the fine clay sediment washed downstream and from the shoreline. Aerial videos confirm the primary source is upstream, although new construction can be a significant contributor when not protected.
The readings also verify the effect seasonal changes have on water clarity. Around late December or early January, the surface of the lake cools significantly, causing the heavy surface water to sink to the bottom of the lake. This is a naturally occurring cycle in this climate and is beneficial to the overall health of the lake by taking oxygen rich surface water to the bottom to support aquatic life forms and mixing the layers of water. Commonly referred to as lake "turnover", this action -- while beneficial -- also picks up the fine clay sediment from the bottom and places it in suspension for a time.
In the warmth of late spring and early summer, the turnover stops and sediment falls slowly back to the bottom and clarity improves. As the summer heat intensifies, the slight lowering of clarity is probably the result of some algae growth that could be a danger if the nutrient level of the lake were to become excessive.
Fall gives the best clarity readings as cool weather as less activity and normally reduced rainfall keep the lake looking clear until it turns over once again.
Dr. John Hains on Practical Limnology (biological, chemical, and physical features of lakes and other bodies of fresh water.)
In 1999, FOLKS received the first EPA/SCDHEC Grant which lasted for five years and started with a complete survey of the twenty-one streams entering Lake Keowee. We use the term EPA/SCDHEC because EPA (the Environmental Protection Agency) provides certain funds to each Environmental Agency (Department of Health and Environmental Control in our case) and the states decide to fund their priorities. That first grant was led by Bill Ebeling, a FOLKS President. The project looked into everything ranging from old gold mines to working with livestock operators to fence cattle out of streams and provide clean well water for them. It also included working on some failed septic systems.
In 2005, FOLKS received a grant focused on Cane and Little Cane Creek -- both were on the SC list of impaired waterways. In this case the work was led by Bob Swank, a FOLKS President and Morris Warner of the Clemson Extension Service. The objective was to bring this stream system into compliance with SC regulations. Again, the leaders and volunteers worked with livestock operators and concentrated on finding failed septic systems and through cost sharing, fix them. The City of Walhalla has an old collection system that ties into the Oconee County Joint Sewer Authority. The City of Walhalla entered a consent decree with SCDHEC and performed considerable work on their collection system. FOLKS’ testing showed Cane and Little Cane Creek in compliance and we have been testing ever since. We now find over the past 2-3 years that the system is out of compliance again.
Between the Source Water Protection Program (part of the recent relicensing) and another EPA/SCDHEC grant we applied for recently, we expect to be doing considerable work on this stream system including checking out the collector pipe system during heavy rains.
Source Water Protection
One of the most important provisions in the Keowee-Toxaway Relicensing Agreement is the Source Water Protection program. At the very beginning of the relicensing process FOLKS was instrumental in moving the measurement of water quality from Dissolved Oxygen (DO) only to a more robust Source Water Protection Program.
The numbers speak for themselves: by the end of the re-licensing period (2046 or 2056) there could be up to 750,000 Upstate residents getting a portion of their drinking water from Lake Keowee plus there may be 10,000 homes on septic systems around Lake Keowee.
Duke Energy agreed to the program and is funding it with $1,000,000.
The program has four elements:
1. Continuation of water quality modeling to develop open source models by a undergraduate or post-graduate Clemson University student.
2. Find and fix failed spetic systems with the priority based on proximity to perennial stream or shoreline.
3. Work with willing livestock operations to keep livestock out of streams and assist in providing alternative water sources.
4. Communicate with residents around the lake not connected to sanitary sewer lines about necessity of maintaining septic systems; demonstrate the use of native plants, pervious surfaces, rain gardens and soil testing prior to lawn fertilization.