Nearly one-fifth of households in the USA are attached to septic tanks.
These systems are generally fine when they are properly maintained but problems have become more frequent within these small waste management systems.
Raw sewage leaks from septic tanks are causing health risks and ecological damage nationwide.
Many research experts believe that this could be avoided by introducing clear regulations and frequent inspections.
Often maintenance is not even attempted until a system fails.
Circle of Blue reported in October 2015:
“Added up, failing septic systems and the threats they cause are a newly recognized and serious feature of the nation’s unaddressed water pollution problem. The United States already contends with the geriatric condition of America’s water infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the country’s water supply and waste treatment systems a D grade in 2013. The average age of a Baltimore water main, to cite one example, is 75 years. Last week, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) proposed $US 1.8 billion in federal money over five years to help poor communities replace old sewer systems. Farm runoff, the country’s biggest source of water pollution, is now the target of Clean Water Act lawsuits. Polluted stormwater draining from cities and suburbs is a third unaddressed source of water pollution.
Blue Plains, which handles the wastewater for 2.3 million people in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., is one of the country’s largest sewage treatment facilities. Compared to municipal sewage systems, much less attention and money is directed at septic systems.
But in the underwhelming national consideration of water pollution and infrastructure in Washington and state capitals even less attention and money is directed to septic systems. “There are no federal rules that address septic systems,” said Craig Mains, an engineering scientist at the National Environmental Services Center at West Virginia University. “Septic is not covered under the Clean Water Act. It is left up to the states and counties to decide how to regulate. There is a lot of variability state to state.”
Septic tank management is just as important as mains wastewater infrastructure asset management.
Without correct management, these systems could end up polluting entire ecosystems and causing harmful diseases to infect communities.
Inframanage.com notes that septic tank management can be a real challenge for counties and municipalities as the assets are privately-owned, and not part of publicly owned and managed networks.
The management of septic tank systems generally has to be undertaken by regulation, state laws or local laws.
Here in New Zealand, a few communities have asked for county-wide management of septic tank systems, generally on a three-year cleaning cycle.
A contract is let by the County to private septic tank cleaning operators, who then clean all the tanks in the small town or area while they are operating there.
This leads to efficiency and overall lower charges to homeowners compared with ordering individual cleaning. It also takes care of the homeowner having to remember to get the work done.
Homeowners using the service agree to pay an annual charge via property taxes.
These arrangements take time and leadership to set up, consult on, and get an agreement with communities.
Where this infrastructure asset management solution has happened in New Zealand, the arrangement has worked well and has been of help in supporting environmental protection.