Septics are important in water quality

This article submitted by Stephanie Everson on 07/29/97.

Individual septic systems have been a cause of concern over the years for lake shore owners on Koronis. Information on the causes and effects of water pollutants have not always been available, or completely known, in years past, causing confusion and frustration to those concerned.

In 1996 Stearns County sent notices to 26 residences on Lake Koronis and Rice Lake requesting their septic systems be brought up to code. Sewage was being discharged either directly into the lakes from faulty systems, or was surfacing above ground.

Most of those systems were brought up to code, and many more residents in the area have repaired or purchased new systems, but privately owned septics still pose a need for more readily available information for lake shore property owners.

Water quality in Lake Koronis and Rice Lake has become a mission for the Koronis Lake Association, a local organization of lake shore owners and concerned citizens. They have researched and provided information on better lake shore management for 27 years, and continue to seek out information from reliable sources such as conservation and governmental and regulatory agencies.

A major concern for the Koronis Lake Association is faulty septic systems on lake shore properties, a major cause for many lake contaminants. According to Dave Gustafson, a sewage treatment specialist with the University of Minnesota, a properly designed, installed, operated, and maintained septic system is better than a municipal. Unfortunately, an individual system can also become a high risk if left unattended.

Misinformation is most often the cause of poor septic system performance. According to Dale and Lora Lorenz and Rich and Kathy Olmscheid, shore land volunteers with the Koronis Lake Association, water conservation is a good way to maintain a properly functioning septic system.

The Lorenz' and Olmscheids received two days of extensive lake shore conservation training from several governmental regulatory agencies, such as the Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Extension Service. They learned that in some instances, a practice that appears to be logical can have the opposite outcome of what is expected.

For instance, it would seem that water flushed through a drain into a septic system would work to flush out the system. In actuality, the more water that runs down the drain in the shower, bath, washing machine, sink, or other drain, stirs up the layer of sludge at the bottom of the septic tank. That in turn washes those solids to the top of the tank which could plug the pipes and back up the system.

The shore land volunteers commented that water efficiency does not have to mean water deprivation. For example, using the suds saver option on a washing machine will save a considerable amount of water, which not only helps the septic system to function properly, but could also save on the utility bill. Also, turning off the faucet while brushing one's teeth can save gallons of water.

According to Gustafson, there are several important factors to keep in mind in maintaining a septic system. Each property owner should insure their system is large enough for their lifestyle. Since people tend to use more water than in years past, septics need a larger capacity. For smaller systems, water saving devices such as various shower heads or suds savers on washing machines are a good measure as they don't release as much water, but achieve the same thing.

Septics can also have improved functioning when low-phosphate (less than 11 percent) dishwasher and laundry soaps are used. Liquid soaps are also better for the systems than powdered because liquids don't accumulate fine particles in the sludge.

It was also mentioned that septic additives and cleaners are not necessary in a properly maintained and functioning system since naturally occurring bacteria breaks down the solids to be released into the drain field. Harsh chemicals from various additives can pollute the treatment process. Even wash water from latex paint on brushes or rollers have similar effects when washed down a drain. Chemical products should be disposed through hazardous waste recycling, never into the septic system.

A system should be pumped, cleaned, and inspected every two years. In addition to being the most effective means of spotting problems and maintaining the system, it's also much less expensive than a repair bill which could run anywhere from $2000 to $10,000.

For property owners who need repairs or replacements of old septic systems, the office of the North Fork Crow River Watershed District in Brooten has made available low interest loans at three percent to Koronis and Rice Lake property owners, as well as to others in the watershed district.

Shore land volunteers, Lorenz' and Olmscheids are also available for those who desire information on better methods of maintaining a septic system, or just need an answer to a specific question.

Spread thinly in a drain field from a properly functioning septic system, sewage is less harmful, but in concentrated areas above ground, it can pose a very real health threat to both humans and the lake. According to the shore land volunteers, regular maintenance and proper use is the secret to a properly functioning septic system.

With information readily available between neighbors and residents, Lake Koronis and Rice Lake will continue to provide the beauty and purity that originally brought many home owners to their shores.

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