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Septic Sense for Homeowners

The AOWMA has a comprehensive homeowner education program entitled Septic Sense, which is delivered to homeowners in rural communities at the request of the Municipal District or County. The program provides information on the importance of using a certified contractor to perform installation and maintenance on onsite wastewater systems, as well as troubleshooting tips and the answers to frequently asked questions.Homeowners are provided with a package that includes a homeowner manual, maintenance record, tips sheet and other material.

The AOWMA is booking now for fall and winter Septic Sense presentations. If you know of a municipality that might want to benefit from this program, please pass on the AOWMA’s contact information.

Another source of information on the care and maintenance of septic systems is available on the Government of Alberta’s website. This information can be printed off along with information from the AOWMA website and included in the maintenance manual provided to the homeowner as required by the Alberta Standard of Practice.

Below is an excerpt from

How safe, effective, and economical an onsite sewage system is greatly depends on the use and maintenance of the system. Properly used and maintained systems provide years of service. Proper use begins with waste disposal habits. Individuals determine how much, and what enters the system. Many of us were used to \”just flushing and it went away\”, and had never heard of onsite sewage systems until we moved to a rural setting. Coming up with, and sticking to proper use and maintenance guidelines will go along way to maximizing the longevity of an onsite sewage system.

The suggestions outlined below are meant to give some insights into most conventional systems and help with developing proper use and maintenance habits. More sophisticated systems may require additional maintenance. For specific information about a particular system, contact an onsite sewage system contractor, previous owner, or the local authority having jurisdiction (Municipal, or Provincial Private Sewage Inspector).

Tips for using your onsite sewage system

  • Make efforts to minimize the amount of water that goes into the onsite sewage system; typical water use is about 227 litres (50 gallons) per day for each person. Try not to exceed that amount. Having a water meter installed will help you monitor your water use.
  • Systems are designed to handle domestic wastewater. Things that do not break down easily (facial tissue, large amounts of vegetable scrapings, coffee grounds, chemicals, paints, oils, sanitary napkins, applicators, condoms, medicines, pesticides, poisons, strong disinfectants, etc.) can damage a system or substantially increase the need for cleaning the septic tank.
  • Restrict the use of in-sink garbage disposals. They add a large amount of organic and inorganic material to your sewage, which may exceed your system\’s capacity and cause it to fail.
  • Do not pour grease or cooking oil down the drain (including toilet). Grease and oil is hard to break down. It will eventually move into the soil, plugging it off.
  • Keep your fixtures in good repair. A slow-running toilet can add large amounts of water. A running toilet discharging ¼ gallon per minute will result in 360 gallons per day. This is more water than a sewage system for a 3-bedroom home is designed for. To test the toilet, put a few drops of food colouring in the toilet tank. If it shows up in the bowl, it is leaking. It may take as long as an hour for colour to show in the bowl.

Tips for maintaining your onsite sewage system

  • Wastewaters not included in the system\’s design should not be put into the system. This may include wastewater from:

– foundation weeping tile drains,
– a hot tub, spa or hydro massage bath exceeding a 2-person capacity,
– a swimming pool,
– an iron filter,
– water conditioning equipment that generates excessive amounts of  wastewater.

  • Have a diagram showing the location of your septic tank and disposal field.
  • If not already in place, install watertight manhole extensions to simplify septic tank access.
  • Make sure the access lids are structurally sound, secure and childproof.
  • If access lids are buried, consider raising them above grade to facilitate access.
  • Have the septic tank checked annually to determine how often the tank needs to be pumped out. (typically tanks are pumped out by a vacuum truck approximately every two years)
  • If pumps are used in the system, have any pump screens cleaned (make sure they are re-installed) and have the control operations checked.
  • Maintain adequate vegetative cover over the disposal field. Keep the grass trimmed.
  • Direct eavestrough downspouts, and other surface water flows away from the septic tank and disposal field.
  • Systems are installed near the surface – keep automobiles and heavy equipment off the system. The piping and septic tanks can be damaged by heavy traffic, and the traffic will compact the ground reducing its ability to absorb sewage effluent. In winter, traffic (even from snowmobile paths) will drive frost into the system causing it to freeze.

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