Septic Fields

The ASTTBC swears by the septic field. This time honored method involves digging out an area for large holding tank, and a 50’ by 50’ absorption field. Drainage pipes are buried in the field to disperse the waste. A mantle of specially approved gravel is laid to a depth of 10” along the pipes followed by another 3’ of imported sandy soil to improve absorption. In some places this method works very well, but it does have its problems.   What happens when the homeowner’s yard is a rock bluff, which cannot be dug? Or, suppose the area is entirely under water during the winter months? These are not unusual circumstances in rural areas. In these cases, putting in septic field is a complete waste of time and money.

Then there is the problem of disposal. A septic tank has to be cleaned out every three to five years. These systems work on the basis of creeping failure. As solids build up in the tank and dispersal pipes, there is less space for the sludge and scum to settle out before seeping into the leaching field. Unattended, your system backs up, bringing a pond or stinking rotted sewage to the surface. Beware, when this happens your field has failed, and the whole thing will probably have to be replaced. In many rural areas it is simply not practical to bring in a truck to pump out your tank. Tankers must be barged over to isolated islands at great expense, and some areas are simply inaccessible for these large unwieldy vehicles. In these cases, it is not uncommon for the landowner to take matters into his own hands and simply pump out the filthy contents of his tank on some remote area of his property. So why go to the enormous expense of installing a septic system in the first place?  

There are other problems as well. A septic field is not a closed system and there cannot help but be some contamination of ground water. When a number of these fields are located in a crowded subdivision, wells and drinking water will be dangerously contaminated-- as happened on Mayne Island a few years ago. Plus these systems are vulnerable to physical damage. Grease, chemicals, diapers, coffee grounds, paper, plastics tampons, indeed, anything other than human waste, will clog and eventually destroy your septic field. Care must be taken not to compact the soil and pipes by forgetting their location and driving over them. And be careful not to get too intimate with your tank during inspection and cleanout. Every year there are always a few poor souls who pass out and expire, asphyxiated by the delicate fumes of their own waste. 

Yes, I know. The great appeal of septic fields is that they encourage the comforting yet antiquated flush toilet. A quick jerk of the chain and all those embarrassing sights and smells vanish magically into the void forever. Such squeamishness may be regarded as criminal in the near future. So what are the alternatives?