June 20, 2012
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Maintaining Septic Systems During and After A Flood
St. Louis County Environmental Services staff are recommending that homeowners with saturated properties take some precautions to help prevent damage to their septic systems. If you are experiencing slow sink or toilet drains or backed up water in floor drains you might think your septic tank is the problem. In all likelihood it is because of saturated soils in the drainfield and you should severely reduce your water usage until the field can recover.
"Under flooded or saturated drainfield conditions, do NOT have the septic tank pumped," says Donna O'Connor Environmental Health Specialist with St. Louis County. Experts say that pumping your tank during flood conditions is only a temporary solution and may cause severe damage by allowing the tank to try to float out of the ground." This could damage the pipes leading to and from the tank.
Whenever the water table is high or your sewage system is threatened by flooding there is a risk that sewage will back up into your home. The only way to prevent this backup is to relieve pressure on the system by using it less. The best solution is to plug all drains in the basement and drastically reduce water use in the house. Some suggestions include:
First make sure there are no leaking fixtures in the house. Check faucets, shower heads, toilets, sinks etc.
Don't put water from a basement sump pump into the septic system.
Don't let water from roof gutters or the sump pump discharge into the drainfield area.
Reduce the number of times you flush the toilet. A good rule might be one flush per person per day.
Reduce the number of showers or baths. A good rule might be one bath or shower every other day per person.
Don't use the dishwasher or garbage disposal.
Don't do laundry. Take it to a laundromat if possible.
Common sense is the key to reducing water use in the house. Remember, the drainfield was designed to treat the amount of water normally discharged from the house. When additional water from rain, snow or flooding is added to the drainfield, its ability to handle household water becomes seriously limited.
Have your septic tank professionally inspected and serviced after a flood if you suspect damage. Signs of damage include settling or an inability to accept water. Most septic tanks are not damaged by flooding since they are below ground and completely covered. However, septic tanks and pump chambers can fill with silt and debris, and must be professionally cleaned.
After a flood it is a good idea to have well water tested before you use it again. Also, be cautious when checking for damage to the electrical systems associated with your septic system. A well-maintained and constructed septic system will better withstand the stresses of heavy rains or flooding. Environmental Services staff recommend that you inspect your system regularly to ensure proper function.
For more information call the St. Louis County Environmental Services office at 218-725-5200 for the Duluth area and 218-749-0625 for the rest of St. Louis County, or go to www.stlouiscountymn.gov/septic for more information and links to other sites.