Some insight on the out-of-sight and out-of-mind: septic systems



By Lori Morey

Most of us only think about our septic systems when they are making themselves known to us in some disturbing way, such as backing up in the home or yard. Unfortunately when that happens it is usually too late and something has gone very wrong.

In Ohio alone there are about one million households located beyond a city sewer, so many must treat and dispose of wastewater on their own property. This is when a home septic system comes into play.

For the most part, septic systems are simple to operate, and when properly designed, constructed and maintained, they do an excellent job of removing pollutants from wastewater, protecting Ohio’s water resources.


Unfortunately the most recent Ohio data collected from 2012 has found that nearly 1 in 3 home septic systems leaks untreated waste into the ground.

Of Ohio’s 130 city and county health departments, it was found that 194,000 septic systems statewide are experiencing some degree of failure. That failure rate equals 31 percent, up from 23 percent in 2008.

Some folks may think 194,000 out of nearly one million septic systems within the state seems like a minor problem, but those failing systems contribute to water quality problems and can be a serious public health threat.

What those numbers amount to is leaked raw sewage making its way into Ohio’s water resources. This can sicken people and wildlife and help feed the toxic algae blooms that take over Ohio’s streams and lakes each summer.

To avoid being part of the problem, watch for signs of failure in your existing system, and make sure any new systems are properly designed for the site and conditions.

Septic site

Your home site’s soil will play a big part in the type of septic system you will need to put in and how well your current septic system is working.

Eventually all systems wear out just like your homes roof, furnace and other household appliances. You should get more than 20-30 years out of a well-maintained septic system, and a septic system can benefit greatly from upgrades along the way.

To get the most out of your septic system consider a couple easy ways to maintain it.

Since the soil must accept all of the water used in your home, space your water use throughout the day and week. Do not wait for the system to back up before you pump it out. Back-ups can be caused by clogging of the soil from sewage solids. Pump your tank based on the size of the tank and number of people using it.


If you would like to learn more about how to keep a septic system working properly, or about the laws and regulations concerning septic systems, contact you’re local health department.

Some counties have a Community Improvement Corporation that has loan money available if your system is failing, or has already failed.

If you’re interested in ways to decrease your personal water use, you can find facts about self contained compost toilets at your local hardware store.


This year the Harrison County SWCD, CIC, Health Department, and Lehman’s Hardware are offering two free seminars about the items mentioned above, in Harrison County Ohio. Contact the Harrison SWCD at 740-942-8837 or by emailing for more information.

(Lori Morey has worked as the Natural Resources Specialist at Harrison SWCD since August 2012. She is a native of Morrow County and previously worked for Richland SWCD. She holds an Associate of Applied Science in Environmental Resources Management from The Ohio State University ATI.)


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