Lake Mohawk Preservation Foundation
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Household Management and Effects on the Lake

Preventing groundwater pollution from failing septic systems should be a priority for every homeowner.

Contamination can expose family and neighbors to waterborne diseases and other serious health risks. Nitrates and phosphates found in wastewater can cause algae blooms in our lakes. These blooms concern cause aesthetic problems and impact aquatic life.

Top Four Things You Can Do To Protect Your Septic System

  • Inspect and pump your system every three years-A Lake Mohawk community requirement.
  • Use water efficiently.
  • Don’t dispose of nonbiodegradable items or household hazardous wastes in sinks or toilets.
  • Care for your drain field.

Septic system maintenance is often compared to automobile maintenance because only a little effort on a regular basis can save a lot of money and prolong the life of your system. By having your system inspected and pumped regularly, you can prevent the high cost of septic system failure. A professional contractor can do a thorough inspection of the entire system, checking for cracked pipes and the condition of your system. Pumping your septic tank is probably the single most important thing that you can do to protect your septic system.

If the buildup of solids in the tank becomes too high and solids move to the drain field, the system can clog and become strained to the point where a new drain field will be needed. Water conservation is also important when you have a septic system. Continual saturation of the soil in your drain field can affect the ability of soil to naturally remove pollutants from the wastewater. In order to prevent saturation, immediately repair any leaking faucets or running toilets, and use dishwashers only when full. Homeowners should also stagger their laundry throughout the week and try to do no more than two wash loads per day. When wastewater leaves a septic tank too quickly, solids can be carried into the drain field, straining the system.

As a general rule of thumb, do not put anything down your drain that can be put in the trash. The more solids that go into your tank, the higher the risk for problems to arise. In the kitchen, avoid washing food scraps, coffee grinds, and other food items down the drain – including grease and cooking oils. Garbage disposals increase the amount of solids in your tank up to 50 percent and should not be used.

The only things that should be flushed down the toilet are wastewater and toilet paper. Household cleaners such as bleach, disinfectant, and toilet cleaners should be used in moderation and only according to product labels. Overuse of these products can harm your system. Using low or nonphosphate detergents will reduce the amount of chemicals going into our lakes and will help reduce the incidence of algae blooms.

Even small amounts of chemicals such as paints, anti-freeze, photographic solutions, pharmaceuticals, antibacterial soaps, pesticides, and even drain cleaners can disrupt or permanently damage your septic system. These chemicals will also pollute the groundwater. The general consensus among septic system experts is that septic system additives are not necessary and the effects of these additives are not known at this time. Septic system drain fields allow water to trickle from a series of perforated pipes, through a layer of gravel, into the soil. Roots from shrubs and trees can damage your drain field. Grass is the most appropriate cover. Be sure to keep heavy machinery off all parts of your septic system in order to prevent damage. It’s important to know the location of your system and to keep a diagram or sketch of it with your maintenance records. There are two main parts to a basic septic system: the septic tank and the drain field. Household wastewater first flows into the septic tank where it should stay for at least a day. In the tank, heavy solids settle to the bottom forming a layer of sludge. Grease and light solids float to the top forming a layer of scum. The sludge and scum remain in the tank where naturally occurring bacteria work to break them down. Bacteria cannot completely break down all of the sludge and scum, however, and this is why septic tanks need to be pumped periodically. Eventually, the wastewater in the middle of the tank is pushed out into the drain field as more water enters the septic tank from the house. This water travels through pipes into the field. If too much water is flushed into the septic tank in a short period of time, the wastewater flows out of the tank before it has had time to separate.

By taking care of your septic system, you are taking care of your lakes. For more information about septic systems go to or

Information for this article: National Environmental Services Center, http://www.nesc.

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