Homeowner s GUIDE. to living with a well and septic system. Northeast Colorado. Health. Department. Replacement System. Leach Field. Septic Tank.

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1 Homeowner s GUIDE to living with a well and septic system Northeast Colorado Health Department Replacement System Leach Field Septic Tank Well

2 Congratulations on the purchase of your new home. Living in the country provides ample opportunity to enjoy nature in a quiet and relaxing atmosphere, but it also provides added responsibility on the part of the homeowner. This added responsibility goes beyond mowing and fixing windows, it involves the protection of your groundwater. With your new country home you have purchased two new types of systems that can not only impact groundwater, but also the health of your family and community. These two systems are your water well and your onsite wastewater system, or septic system. Having a supply of safe water for you and your family to consume and use is a priority. With a simple bacteriological or nitrate test we can tell you whether or not the water coming from your well is up to drinking water standards or if it has become contaminated. Your onsite wastewater system is just as important. Think of this as your own small scale sewage treatment system. Ensuring that this system is functioning correctly will save you headaches and money in the future. Whether you re just buying your home or you ve lived there for years, both of these systems require maintenance to ensure they run properly and safely. This Homeowner s Guide was designed to help walk you through some of the common information associated with operating and maintaining both your well and wastewater system, and to ensure you are knowledgeable about these systems prior to the purchase of your new home. Included in the center of this booklet is a loan application form and a septic permit application. The loan application form can be used if you d like to take a water sample and/or have the septic system looked at prior to making an offer on a new home. The septic permit application is necessary if you currently have or if you purchase a home with a system that is not functioning correctly. This permit must be filled out and filed with NCHD whether you are replacing or repairing an existing system. If you have any questions concerning your well or onsite wastewater system, please call the phone number below that corresponds to the county you live in and ask to speak with an environmental health representative. Thank you, Melvin Bustos Environmental Health Manager (970) x2262

3 Onsite Wastewater Systems An Onsite Wastewater System, or septic system, is a small scale sewage treatment system common in areas to with no connection to main sewage pipes, such as homes outside of city limits. The design and installation of a wastewater system is controlled by local and state rules through Systems a permit process. In northeast Colorado, that process is governed by the Northeast Colorado Health Department. The design of your onsite wastewater system will take into consideration specific site characteristics, including soil type, and the size of the home. In northeast Colorado, it is the homeowner s responsibility to care for their own wastewater system. A system that is not performing properly can contaminate groundwater The most obvious septic system failures are easy to spot. Check for pooling water or muddy soil around your septic system or in your basement. Notice whether your toilet or sink backs up when you flush or do laundry. You might also notice strips of bright green grass over the drainfield. Check with a septic system professional and NCHD if you suspect such a failure. A Homeowner s Guide and pose other risks to the environment. Maintaining your system protects your investment in your home. If it s properly designed, constructed and maintained, your system can provide long-term effective treatment of household wastewater. If it isn t maintained, you may be faced with replacement costs, which normally run thousands of dollars. When you re buying or selling a home, you may be required to have the system inspected. This guide will provide you with some basic tips to help care for your system and make sure it s in good working order. ONSITE WASTEWATER SYSTEMS

4 Pumping Having your septic tank pumped on a regular basis is the first step in caring for your system. If you don t pump your system regularly there is a chance that the soil around the leach field can become overloaded with solids and possibly nitrates. This could lead to groundwater contamination occurring from the wastewater system which could have an influence on the water well that is serving a residence. ONSITE WASTEWATER SYSTEMS NCHD recommends that a septic tank be pumped every 4 years. The pumping of your septic tank should be viewed as a preventative maintenance cost; just like having your oil changed every 3,000 miles in your car. Each county has at least one licensed pumper of domestic septage. A list of those licensed can be found on our web site at What a pumper does for your tank is very important and valuable, as the pumping removes the level of solids that will accumulate in the septic tank over time. Keeping these solids in the tank to a minimal level will ensure that solids don t clog up your leach field and will ultimately help reduce the chance for groundwater contamination. If it has been some time since your tank was pumped maybe it would be good idea to get your tank on a regular pumping schedule. Water Use Ensure that large amounts of water from laundry or other household practices don t overwhelm your system. Those of us with kids know that laundry is a never ending chore. If your house is on a wastewater system, this never ending chore can cause some problems if not managed properly. Doing several loads of laundry over a few short hours or even during the course of a day can flush the system rather quickly and increase the amount of solids and other containments going to the leach field. Most septic tanks are designed or sized to hold or detain waste for a minimum of 30 hours before being released to the leach field. So staggering laundry loads over the course of a week will help ensure the

5 proper amount of detention time has been achieved. Along this same line of thought, if you have leaky toilets or faucets, this can also cause similar issues because of the increased amount of water going through the system. Solid Waste Limiting the amount of solid waste that goes into the wastewater system is very important. Everything that goes into your septic tank has to be broken down by bacteria, flow out to the leach field, or later be pumped out. Limiting the amount of solids that go into the system is essential in making the process work properly. Products with a lot of plastic or rubber material should not be put into the wastewater system. Food scraps or table scraps are also something that should be reduced or eliminated from entering your septic tank as these will also need to be broken down over time, thus taking bacteria away from the break down of other biodegradable solids. Using your septic tank as a trash can is not a good practice and over time will lead to trouble with the overall efficiency of the system. Cleaning Products What types of chemicals are going into the septic tank? The use of household chemicals is a way of life today, but some of them can pose problems for your wastewater system. Some products like fabric softener in particular can decrease the amount of nitrogen breakdown that is occurring in the septic tank. This decrease in nitrogen breakdown can increase the amount of nitrogen that will go to the leach field. Some products have also been shown to be detrimental to aquatic life and are commonly found in septic tank pumpings. A minimal amount of sanitizing type solution into your septic system does not typically cause any adverse effects in efficiency. ONSITE WASTEWATER SYSTEMS Another issue that can be harmful to your system is the disposal of

6 over-the-counter and prescription drugs. Some of these products take a long time to break down in a wastewater system and eventually end up in the leach field and could have potentially adverse effects on plants, wildlife, and eventually humans. Care should be taken with any disposal of medicine type products. ONSITE WASTEWATER SYSTEMS There is also concern when an onsite wastewater treatment system is serving a commercial operation that uses chemicals, especially if the chemicals enter the septic system. There have been instances when this has caused serious groundwater issues around the country. Over the past five years the United States Environmental Protection Agency has started a shallow waste disposal system program that is addressing this issue. We are often asked about products that are sold that enhance the operation of the septic tank. The Northeast Colorado Health Department does not have a position one way or another on the effectiveness of these products. That is totally up to the individual homeowner on the use of these types of products, but typically bacteria are present in large enough numbers that these products should not be necessary. Leach Field Avoid driving over your system, especially the leach field. The typical onsite wastewater system has some plastic components installed and the weight of a vehicle can crush these components. In addition, soil compaction from driving over a leach field can reduce the operating efficiency of the system and can shorten the life of the system. The typical small riding lawn mower should not be an issue when mowing over and around the system. When landscaping around your home care should be taken to divert water from collecting in the area of your leach field. Consideration should also be given to what types of plants and trees are planted around your leach field. Some trees can cause damage when root systems begin to clog up your leach field. While doing landscaping or any building project, take some time to review where a replacement system might be installed if your current septic system should ever fail. This will ensure that a possible replacement site on your property has been identified.

7 Well Water Quality If you and your family will be getting water from your own private well, it s important that you know how to keep that water safe, the health risks you may face, and where you can go for help or advice. There is no agency that regulates private drinking wells, however, your local health department can perform water quality tests to ensure your water is safe and free from bacteria. Testing your water As a homeowner you should check your well every spring to make sure there are no mechanical problems. You should also have the water tested once each year for bacteria and once every two to three years for harmful chemicals, such as nitrates. You should also have your well water tested if: WELL WATER QUALITY There are known problems with well water in your area You have experienced problems near your well (i.e. flooding, land disturbances, and nearby waste disposal sites) You replace or repair any part of your well system State and local health or environmental departments often test for bacteria and nitrates. The Northeast Colorado Health Department can conduct a bacteria test in its own laboratory, or send the water samples to another lab to test for a variety of other harmful chemicals. You can contact the Northeast Colorado Health Department by calling , ask for an environmental health representative.

8 What to test for Total Coliform: Coliform bacteria are microbes found in the digestive systems of warm-blooded animals, in soil, on plants and in surface water. These microbes typically do not make you sick; however, because microbes that do cause disease are hard to test for in the water, total coliforms are tested instead. If the total coliform count is high, then it is very possible that harmful germs like viruses, bacteria and parasites might also be found in the water. WELL WATER QUALITY Fecal Coliform/E. coli: Fecal coliform bacteria are a kind of total coliform. The feces (or stool) and digestive systems of humans and warm-blooded animals contain millions of fecal coliforms. Fecal coliforms and E. coli are usually harmless. However, a positive test may mean that feces and harmful germs have found their way into your water system. These harmful germs can cause diarrhea, dysentery and hepatitis. It is important not to confuse the test for the common and usually harmless E. coli with a test for the more dangerous E. coli O157:H7. Nitrate: Nitrate is naturally found in many types of food. However, high levels of nitrate in drinking water can make people sick. Nitrate in your well water can come from animal waste, private septic systems, wastewater, flooded sewers, polluted storm water runoff, fertilizers, agricultural runoff and decaying plants. A nitrate test is recommended for all wells. If the nitrate level in your water is higher than the EPA standards, you should look for other sources of water or ways to treat your water. These are just some of the things you can have your well water tested for. Other tests, such as testing for fluoride, can be performed at the Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment, the water samples can be delivered by the homeowner or by NCHD, although shipping fees will apply. It s important that you call before collecting water samples as the majority of the tests require a special sanitized bottle.

9 Protecting your water You can help protect your water supply by carefully managing activities near the water source. Periodically inspect exposed parts of the well for problems such as cracked, corroded or damaged well casing; broken or missing well cap; settling and cracking of surface seals Slope the area around the well to drain surface runoff away from the well Install a well cap or sanitary seal to prevent unauthorized use of, or entry into, the well Have the well tested once a year for coliform bacteria, nitrates and any other concerns you may have Keep accurate records of any well maintenance, such as disinfection or sediment removal, that may require the use of chemicals in the well Hire a certified well driller for any new well construction, modification or abandonment and closure WELL WATER QUALITY Avoid mixing or using pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides, degreasers, fuels and other pollutants near the well Do not dispose of wastes in dry or abandoned wells Do not cut off the well casing below the land surface Pump and inspect septic systems as often as recommended by your local health department Never dispose of harsh chemicals, solvents, petroleum products or pesticides in a septic system or dry well

10 Chlorinating your well If your well water becomes contaminated you can treat the water by chlorinating it. You should consider chlorination if you ve had a positive bacteria or coliform test, if you ve experienced problems near your well such as flooding or other land disturbances, or if you replace or repair any part of your well system. Follow the steps below to properly chlorinate your well: WELL WATER QUALITY Mix one gallon of household chlorine bleach (Purex or Clorox, do not use artificially scented or unscented bleach) with water in a five-gallon bucket. Pour the mixture down the well casing. Circulate the water in the well by running a hose from the nearest cold-water tap back into the well until a chlorine odor is detected. After detecting a strong chlorine odor rinse the inside of the casing and the well cap thoroughly before resealing the well. Run each cold-water tap, both inside and outside the house, including your washing machine, until a chlorine odor is detected. Do not run hot water taps. Allow the chlorine solution to remain in the system for at least eight hours. Hook a hose to an outside hydrant and flush the chlorinated water on a bare or weeded area until the strong chlorine smell is gone. Do not flush into septic system or on vegetation.

11 DATE Well Maintenance ACTIVITY Onsite Wastewater Maintenance DATE ACTIVITY

12 Top 10 Checklist for new Homeowners 1. Contact NCHD to determine if a septic permit exists for the home. This will give you an idea of how your system is laid out, information about the components, and how old the system is. 2. Have the septic tank pumped and examined for integrity by a licensed contractor. This will provide assurance that the components are functioning correctly and that you are aware of the required operation and maintenance of the system. 3. Look in the area where the leach field is to determine if it is functioning properly. You want to make sure there is no standing water or puddles in the vicinity as this could indicate a failing system. 4. Have the well water tested for bacteria. This test requires a sterile bottle which NCHD provides for free. 5. Have the well water checked for nitrates or other chemicals. Both of these tests require sterile bottles which NCHD provides for free. 6. Call the state water engineer, (303) , to determine what type of well you are purchasing. This information will come in handy if you ever need your well repaired or if you are limited to domestic use only, which does not allow for you to water livestock or pets. 7. Chlorinate your well if any of the water samples contain coliform or E. coli. Directions on when and how to chlorinate your well are included in this booklet. 8. Examine the well for any type of disrepair and ensure runoff is away from the well. This is important so that rain water does not run back into the well which can in turn contaminate your water supply. 9. Ask the previous homeowner for a maintenance schedule on both the well and the onsite wastewater system. This will give you an idea of the past maintenance of both systems to ensure they were properly taken care of. 10. Ask the previous homeowner as to whether or not a replacement onsite wastewater system has been sited. Even a well-maintained system will one day fail. It is important that a homeowner plans for an alternate site where buildings and landscaping will not interfere.

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