Septic System Primer

For a tiny state, Vermont has a lot of lakes and ponds, over 800 total. In the 1950s and 60s, many seasonal cottages were constructed on very small lots to serve a limited occupation and use. Today, there is pressure to use these cottages more frequently as rentals or to convert them to year-round residences. Many of these properties were developed before environmental regulations were in place and when little was known about soils and wastewater treatment. In fact, some of the earlier systems were designed to be partly in the groundwater table to facilitate the movement of water back into the environment. We now understand that a few feet of unsaturated soils are needed to treat the wastewater before entering groundwater. This will reduce the number of pathogens and nutrients that can impact wells, lakes and ponds, and swimming areas.

Prior to purchasing a property on a lake or pond, know the septic limitations. The property may not be able to be converted into a full season home without a substantial investment. If you are thinking of renting a lakeside property, consider the risks and costs associated with repairing a failed wastewater system. Educate guests and renters on the use of a septic system – many have never used an on-site septic system and do not know what should not be flushed down the drain or understand the importance of water conservation.

Remember to perform regular maintenance tasks on your septic system. If you have an effluent filter at the outlet of your septic tank, clean it every 6 months. If you don’t have one, consider retrofitting your tank to install one. If you have a septic tank, have the tank pumped every 2–3 years.

~ advice from Mary Clark who is an Environmental Program Manager at the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation with more than 40 years of experience working in the onsite wastewater industry. She is also the President of the State Onsite Regulators Association (SORA).

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