Septic systems can affect the health of our lakes

Septic systems are important in our lakeside communities. A properly functioning septic system can protect the health of individuals and the environment. It’s up to individual users and owners to make sure their septic system is maintained and operating in a safe condition. Septic systems are designed to protect human health and don’t always optimize the health of lakes.

Proper care of your septic systems can extend its life and protect your health and the health of the lakes. Here are some tips for care and maintenance of your septic system.

Think of the septic system as your home’s digestive system. Don’t overload it or kill off the good bacteria. Avoid “cloggers” and “killers”. In general, if it wouldn’t go into (or come out of) a person, it doesn’t belong in a septic system .

  • Do not use garbage disposals. The increased load will require pumping the tank twice as often.
  • Do not put cloggers like grease down the drain. Do not dispose of oil paint in drains.  If you must wash latex paint from pans and brushes, wipe off excess before doing so.
  • Do not dispose of toxic household chemicals down the drain – they may kill beneficial biological activity.
  • Commercial septic additives are not necessary and may be harmful.
  • Don’t use your toilet as a trash can. Waste products such as dental floss, feminine hygiene products, and cigarette butts can clog septic systems.
  • Flushing unwanted medications can destroy the biological treatment in the system, and might contaminate surface waters and groundwater. Take medications to disposal sites at the Lewisboro police station.
  • Know where your septic system is located and don’t pave or drive over it, and don’t plant trees on the fields. An important part of the system is treatment of the waste by aerated soil.

Spread out heavy flows into the septic system. A lot of water arriving at once will stir up the solids, and the suspended solids can flow into the fields and contribute to clogging. Unsaturated soil is a necessary component of the septic treatment.

  • Fix leaking fixtures. A pinhole-sized leak can flood your septic system.
  • Don’t drain hot tubs, footing drains, sump pumps, or water softener backwash into the septic system.
  • Stagger laundry loads over several days. If possible, defer laundry during heavy storms when septic fields may be saturated.
  • Install low-flow fixtures and use water saving appliances.

Do septic systems treat phosphorus? Not directly. The phosphorus in septic effluent will bind with the soil. Soil particles reach capacity limits and phosphorus travels about 3 feet further each year. After a number of years, the phosphorus plume can reach groundwater or lakes, where it enables plant and algae growth. So even if a septic system is still treating pathogens, it can be contributing to problems in the lakes.

Town law requires septic pumping at least once every five years.

Maintain your system by having your septic tank cleaned regularly. It’s the best and cheapest way to keep your septic system in good working order.  It’s also the law. 

Westchester County and the Town now require septic pumping and inspection at least once every five years. Most tanks require pumping every two to three years to stay in good condition. Keep records so you know when your septic was pumped. When the tank is pumped, ask if the baffles that limit solids from flowing into the fields are in place, and if they are not, have the pumper repair them.

See if Westchester County has a record of your septic pump-out

If you are not sure when your home’s septic was last pumped, Westchester County posts septic pumpout dates, but they are sometimes a bit behind on their posting.  Start by going to their mapping site:

Type in your address, click the go button, and make sure it’s at the right address.  Then x to close the blue and grey box.

On the bottom of the right side of the screen, click on “Show Additional Data on Map”. That should bring a menu in the right hand side. Click on the check next to environmental features to turn those off, then click on the plus next to environmental features. Scroll down to find Septic Pump Out 2011, 2012, etc.  Click on the boxes next to those to have them show up on the map. These symbols should show up on the parcels.   If your property doesn’t have one, the county has no record of you having pumped during those years.

If you do have a septic pump out symbol, then click on the “identify” button on the top row under “Mapping Westchester County” and then click on the colored septic tank icon on your property.  A pop-up square should show the service date of the pumping at that address.