sewer

Septic System Nightmare

By Cyndy Kopitsky

The backyard construction site

The backyard construction site

This story I am about to share will hopefully shine a light on one of those “out-of-sight/out-of-mind” homeowner’s responsibilities. To all of you who own homes or plan to make a purchase in the near future in an area without public sewers (if you don’t know whether or not you use a public sewer, please ask!), this story may be of interest.

Homebuyers know that there can be many costs that you encounter after settlement day. We can expect certain larger repairs like a new roof every 30 years or we may opt for energy smart upgrades when the water heater breaks down. These repairs and others are the more obvious types because they are external, but what about the quality and safety of your home insulation or the effectiveness and safety of your septic system? These “hidden” responsibilities could one day cause you an expense and an inconvenience beyond your expectations or imagination.

Septic system repairs

Septic system repairs

That leads me to tell you my experience with the “septic system nightmare.”

One day last week we heard water bubbling noises in the downstairs bathroom sink. Later that day my husband noticed water seeping up from the ground behind our home. After digging a hole, he saw a few pipes were separated by a large gap and water was collecting in the hole. After following instructions to locate the “septic box” and removing steps and cement slabs to get to an access point, my husband called in a professional.

The solution to the bubbling problem was far more complicated than we expected as we watched our backyard turn into a dirt-field and a construction site.  It seemed that because we never pumped out (something that must be done approximately every three years) and the initial system was placed too close to the house and trees 25 years ago, several pipes had broken leading to the septic “field.” I was informed that we were “lucky” and matters could have been worse indeed!

To that end, if you don’t pump out, watch out!

Septic system repairs

Septic system repairs

For more information on septic system maintenance you can visit the U.S. EPA’s Septic Smart webpages at: http://water.epa.gov/infrastructure/septic/septicsmart.cfm. In New Jersey more information can be found on the New Jersey Onsite Waste Management webpages at: http://www.nj.gov/dep/dwq/owmp_main.htm. In New York, please visit: https://www.health.ny.gov/publications/3208/.

About the Author: Cyndy Kopitsky has worked for the Environmental Protection Agency for 16 years in the Clean Water Division. Currently she is the lead contact for the national Urban Waters Initiative. Cyndy is a far commuter with her home in Cape May County, New Jersey. Her personal interests include housing rescue parrots and macaws, gathering fresh eggs from her 11 chickens, and spending time with her dog, cats and when there is time, with her retired husband John. She loves to bake, she eats healthy foods, and tries to respect the environment with her lifestyle choices.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Restoration of Roberts Bay Shows Partnership Works

By Nancy Stoner

On a beautiful, sunny Florida day last week, I visited Roberts Bay near Sarasota and saw several stormwater and wastewater treatment projects that have restored the bay’s health. It’s remarkable what the Sarasota Bay National Estuary Program has accomplished with a staff of five people. The keys were innovation, partnership and public support for the effort.

Many partners joined the tour, including state and local officials, environmental groups and even engineers that designed the projects. Clearly, they were very proud of their accomplishments and the end result of reducing the nutrient pollution entering Roberts Bay so successfully that it was removed from Florida’s impaired waters list in less than 10 years.

A wide variety of approaches were used to restore Roberts Bay. We went to see several of these innovations. The Celery Fields Regional Stormwater Facility is now crowded with birdlife and birdwatchers. The Honore Avenue low-impact development project used traffic circles to expand capacity on an existing road while also adding stormwater treatment on-site, calming traffic and beautifying the neighborhood. Unlike a traditional road widening project, it’s expected that the Honore Avenue project will help retain, if not increase, the value of homes along the road.

Then we toured a park where sewers have replaced leaking septic systems using a vacuum pumping approach since the area is too flat for gravity sewers. We went inside to see the pumps, which were built in Indiana – that shows that environmental projects create business for American companies.

Then, the best part of the tour – Roberts Bay. We passed by oyster beds and mangroves out into the open water, which had several islands teeming with birds: Louisiana and great blue herons, white and brown pelicans, cattle and great egrets, cormorants, anhingas, and even loons. Also, a group of playful dolphins entertained us so much that we stopped the boat to watch them.

While Roberts Bay was not crowded with boats, there were other pontoons, motorboats and several kayaks out that day, as well as lots of folks in nearby seafood restaurants enjoying the local catch. Sarasota clearly understands the tremendous economic value of these resources to the city and the largest industry in Florida – tourism.

Hats off to the Sarasota Bay National Estuary Program, the City of Sarasota, the Sarasota Water Management District, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and all the other local partners who made this effort so successful.

About the author: Nancy Stoner is Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.