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  1. #1
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    Default Rain Saturated Ground and Septic System

    Need some advice…

    Last night my tenant sent me this picture and said the septic drain field has failed. My home is located in an area of Washington State that has just had 33 days of record setting rain. My first thought is that the seepage will subside once the saturated ground has a chance to dry. The Septic System has performed flawlessly for 25 years. Any ideas?
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  2. #2
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    Default Re: Rain Saturated Ground and Septic System

    It's a real good probability the the ground water table is abnormally high given the rain. No where for the effluent to go but up. This is assuming that you have pumped your tank out a few times in the 25 years. If not then the solids may have clogged up a percentage of the drain field and the moist ground the rest.

    Jack

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Rain Saturated Ground and Septic System

    The last pumper's report issued 2 years ago listed no problems. Since then, the home has been vacant except for an occasional weekend visit until 4 months ago when I reluctantly rented it.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Rain Saturated Ground and Septic System

    As noted above, an elevated water table caused by record rainfall could cause problems like this, which would be temporary ...

    but also ... </font><font color="blue" class="small">( until 4 months ago when I reluctantly rented it. )</font> ... raises some troubling possibilities.

    If the tenants have never used a septic system before, they may not be aware that some things should NOT go "down the sewer".

    Also, if just a few people used the property in the past, and a now family with lots of kids (many loads of laundry) are now there, the increased stress on the system could cause this.

    You might care to search TBN on the word "septic" and read the answers, because this topic has been discussed extensively in past, several times.

    At the least, I would go to the property and open the septic tank. See if it is in fact clogged. If it is, you'll have to clean it out, or have it cleaned out (usually only $100 or so). Then make sure your tenant understands they need to use some sense and caution in what they flush away or run down the sink.

    Also, if you are running a water softener backwash into the system, or high levels of laundry, etc. all can cause the problems you are indicating.

    But the fact that the house was empty for so long allowed the septic field to dry out and clean out, and if the tenants are at all careless in their input, that also could cause these problems, or aggravate the excess rain problem.

    Hopefully it is all due to the extraordinarily high water levels.

  5. #5

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    Default Re: Rain Saturated Ground and Septic System

    ultrarunner,

    I suspect that with all the recent rain that the water table is higher than normal which doesn't allow the effluent to dissapate or evaporate. We have experienced the same problem. The alternatives are 1. to hook up to city sewer, 2. replace the failed septic system with a mound system. Both aren't cheap!

    Kevin

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Rain Saturated Ground and Septic System

    Good advice. We had a month of rain here in the fall and I dealt with a few problems too. One of them was in a brand new setup on a high area with great soil the owners hadn't even moved into yet. Reason was the landscaping never got done, so lots of low areas over the septic allowing the water to pond and seep into the ground instead of running off into the nearby ditch. So maybe look over the area over the septic while it's still wet, and check for low areas and ponding. Maybe a little landscaping and grading can help prevent this in the future.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Rain Saturated Ground and Septic System

    There's not much you can do about the weather and it may happen again so I'd be inclined to try a fix rather than wait for the weather to dry up and the water table to drop.

    A legal solution won't be cheap but you could adopt an unofficial fix by installing a rumbling drain between the field and the nearest water course or ditch. You'll find that about 100 feet or more of rumbling drain, terminating in a sand pit, will purify the field discharge pretty well and there will always be a place where the field can outflow to. When the weather is dry, likely it won't but at least it won't back up and come to the surface if it does get really wet again.

    A rumbling drain is like a french drain, a trench 12" wide x 3' deep, fill with large, rounded rocks (which will leave plenty voids) to about 12" of ground level with a geotextile membrane, to stop the drain silting up, before backfill final 12" with soil.

    As I said, not legal but it's a fix for sure.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Rain Saturated Ground and Septic System

    Thank you to all who responded. To be on the safe side, I am having a local septic contractor take a look.

    In hindsight, it would have been nice if I had installed a water meter to track domestic usage. My well was tested to put out 35 gpm for several hours and one of the first things my tenant mentioned is that he runs out of hot water for showers and baths. My home has two 50 gallon electric water heaters...so I think the problem may be a combination of too much septic load and ground saturation from 33 days of rain.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Rain Saturated Ground and Septic System

    BTW, I looked at the photo again. While I am no expert on septic systems at all, and the photo is not particularly revealing, the fact that water trickles out into the ground after being processed by the spectic tank and leech field, is how most septic systems DO WORK. There may be nothing wrong with your system at all.

    I would ask the tenant more questions , like is there any backup from drains within the house, slow water flow down the toilets, etc. You can search on Google and find a checklist to use when trying to determine if a septic system is failing.

    </font><font color="blue" class="small">( (I am having a local septic contractor take a look.) )</font>

    This is a wise decision. You might want to keep a couple of things in mind.

    There is a difference between a septic "contractor" and a septic "engineer." (Like I need to tell you [img]/forums/images/graemlins/blush.gif[/img]). While there are probably many who are competent and honest septic contractors, I sometimes have trouble finding one with both qualities [img]/forums/images/graemlins/shocked.gif[/img].

    In NY state, anyone can do septic work, but in order to perform installation or significant repairs, we needed to have the work plan approved before work began, and again after the work was completed. This approval, of course, comes from "the State." You'll have to inquire locally to find out who approves septic plans, installs and repairs.

    The problem with letting the State know about your septic problems is that they can always issue an order that the house is not habitable, and force you to install a whole new system, even. There can be "local politics" involved too.

    When I had problems with an older system failing, I got some conflicting advices ("nothing's wrong" to "$35,000 to fix"). I had hired a NY State Engineer and he dealt with the local authorities all the time. I had no concern that the work, once completed, would not be approved.

    I am not at all familiar with your local situation in Washington state. But before paying out a lot of money, in my opinion it would be worth the expense to get a WA-licensed state engineer to do your evaluation. You could have two septic contractors come and eyeball the situation and give you an "estimate." If they have woldly different "opinions" you liely would be better off with hiring an engineer.

    The septic engineer will charge maybe a few hundred dollars, but I am certain you'll get a far better and more thorough evaluation than a "contractor" or "home inspector" who runs some dye through.

    A septic engineer will look up the history of your specific system on your piece of property, including studying the original plans for the septic. He'll also consider water flow patterns on all underground water sources and surrounding parcels.

    He'll know for certain the impact of the current local record rainfalls and how many other systems may be similarly affected. He will perform any needed tests (perc, etc.). He also will know and understand the underground soil and water conditions of not only the septic, but also your housing's plumbing, number of occupants, types of effluents, water usage, etc. They are really good.

    I realize your profile inducates you are an engineer, so please excuse me if I have stated the obvious. I go into these details for the typical homeowner (like myself) who find themselves with septic issues.

    Another reason I mention all of this is that with a tenant, you hopefully will not have occupancy/habitability issues. Most every state has laws regarding minimum occupancy requirements; I am certain it includes a working septic or sewer system in every state. As the landlord, you could be liable for temporary relocation, etc.

    Check 1) your lease and 2) your insurance. This likely could be considered as flood or water-related damage, and everything may be covered by your insurance (just guessing here). That is another reason to have it evaluated by an engineer rather than any other trades person.

    You probably may know a local enginner who does septic work, or you can look in the yellow pages for engineers, and one or two of them may include "septic systems" as part of their ad.

    Finally, you may want to have a talk with your tenant and give them a min-seminar on reasonable water usage. [img]/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif[/img]

    All the best,

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Rain Saturated Ground and Septic System

    "the fact that water trickles out into the ground after being processed by the spectic tank and leech field, is how most septic systems DO WORK"

    The effluent should NEVER surface. Septic systems do not work by evaporation, the ground is supposed to absorb the liquid. A small percentage, say 3% wicks upwards towards the surface to evaporate. Once the effluent surfaces, the house can be redtagged by something as simple as a neighbor ratting you out. Keep it quiet until the effluent goes back down. Take pictures but don't park a septic truck outside to alert neighbors that your house is where the stench is from and maybe they should call the health department since their well is right down from your drainfield.

    Septic contractors, pumpers, and designers get real busy when there is a long rain event in the winter. Lots of people experience a shift from a marginal system to a failing system when the ground is saturated. That's you. Right now your saturated drainfield is lacking oxygen so it has gone anaerobic and the drainfield is not able to provide the secondary treatment that it is supposed to under non-saturated conditions. Anaerobic bugs stink, and eat much more slowly so the system will be overwhelmed, a nasty mat of nutrients(slime) will form and the drainfield may never recover.

    You have a problem. It needs to be fixed in the long term and short term but you should wait until the ground dries enough for the surface effluent to go away. Then install a french drain around the system in such a way to drain the groundwater. This is even legal if the french drain is a good distance from the drainfield. Heck, you can have a creek within a good distance. The effluent is "treated" after falling through 18" of non-saturated soil, after that you just need to dispose of it. The french drain diacharge won't stink since the non-saturated drainfield will be filled with aerobic bacteria which eat fast and don't stink. Still, route this french drain to a drywell or something other than a pipe sticking out of the ground oozing year round.

    Don't get caught out there with a backhoe and stinky effluent around your ankles.

    Renters and septics don't mix. Not only from a water use perspective but also the other junk they are sending down the drain like bacon fat and bleach. At the minimum, I would be sure that the septic tank has a very good discharge filter. It is much cheaper to have that cleaned and your tank pumped than to have to replace a ruined drainfield. If the sewer backs up into their bathtub, call to have the filter cleaned. They will soon learn that this is not convenient and change their habits.

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