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denemante 01-07-2013 04:07 PM

testing land above septic fields for contaminants
Hey all - I've had sporadic issues with my septic system during times of heavy rain and water use. We lose use of our basement toilet a day or so per year. After countless considerations, my belief is that the field just gets so saturated it can't purge any more, the tank fills from water use, basement toilet stops. Then everything goes back to normal for the other 364 days of the year and works fine.

All that said - during these times - my backyard grass above the fields can remain damp and even a little spongy. I HOPE that's just from the rain.

Is there any chance anything nasty is floating up? I've got kids who play back there. I mean, I notice ZERO smell. And I know this is the liquid from the tank, not solids.

But if the fields and ground is 100% saturated by rain and the liquid from the septic tank is dripping it's way out into the fields at the same time - it stands to reason that some of what is on the surface might not be pure rainwater.

OR - are fields designed somehow to stop this, or soil level strong enough?

I figured maybe there is some simple text - PH balance or something. I could go out and take a sample of the lawn and test it - and hopefully find just soil and water...

md2lgyk 01-08-2013 07:28 AM

Interesting question! I suppose it's possible but just don't know. The laterals are usually several feet down and covered with a layer of gravel. Maybe your local Health Department can shed some light on the possibility and what sort of tests (if any) are appropriate. They are the folks who approve all septic system installations here.

I'm surprised a septic system was approved for the location and conditions you describe. It probably wouldn't be where I live. If your lot's large enough, have you ever considered putting the leach field somewhere else?

Because of so many undersized, failing, and failed septic systems here (Blue Ridge mountains of WV), we had to have two approved leach field locations when we built our house three years ago. The unused one (septic reserve) had to be at least 10,000 square feet (nearly 1/4 acre) and nothing permanent can be built there. Pretty much limits new construction to lots of at least 1 acre. That means many folks who bought smaller lots years ago now can't build on them.

AllanJ 01-08-2013 07:37 AM

If the leach field area does get saturated with rain water, then there is the chance that the septic tank outflow through the leach lines can become commingled with rain water and some make its way to the surface.

jagans 01-08-2013 08:59 AM

Flies. If you go in your yard in warm weather and there are an unusual amount of flies, you have fecal water rising up to the surface, or a dead animal in the back yard. No Animal? Bad septic system. How often have you pumped?

Is your system built of loam that was brought in or did your land perc OK?

denemante 01-08-2013 11:35 AM

Flies - hmmmm - actually, yes, we've had them. But I only noticed them in the early fall when it was still plenty warm outside. My first thought was the septic. But then I noticed that these flies were actually all over my side yard too and some front yard, which is up a hill, and far from any neighbor's fields. They didn't stick around long, and it wasn't during a time of any rain when presumably septic matter might rise to the grass. So I think they may have appeared for other reasons - perhaps something do to with fertilizer?

Out of curiosity - and I hope I don't have this problem - but what if there is some level of septic water rising into the grass on occasion? I'm sure the health department has standards - not sure if they allow some - or flat-out no septic matter rising.

I don't have room on my property for another field. Would a health department condemn a home? If I had a failed field - and the soil was bad, too - I'd have to excavate a 7+ foot deep hole across my entire backyard to remove both the fields and the soil and replace both.

md2lgyk 01-09-2013 06:47 AM

I have never personally dealt with a failed septic system so don't know what the health department might do, if anything. As I said, there are a number of houses around here with failed systems. Most are small weekend getaway places built in the 1950s and 60s, and are now either abandoned or not used very much. Some have had a large sewage tank put in that has to be periodically pumped out. But that would be a pretty expensive setup for a house that's occupied all the time. If your problem occurs only once or twice a year, you may just have to live with it. You could also check with your Health Department. There are different types of septic systems, some of which don't take up as much room.

AllanJ 01-09-2013 08:05 AM

Septic tank effluent making its way to the surface will usually result in grass or vegetation being more lush than in other parts of the yard.

Septic tank leach fields can sometimes be reconstructed at a higher altitude (to be above the water table) by bringing in fill. This is called a mound system. An electric pump and sometimes a holding tank is needed to schedule (spread out timewise) the distribution of effluent into the elevated leach field (as well as force the effluent uphill).

jagans 01-09-2013 08:39 AM

It would be helpful if you had your location in your profile. Actual fertilizer is usually high in nitrogen and flies dont like that too much. Now if you are talking about horse or cow manure that would be a different story, but I dont think you are going to fertilize your lawn and let the kids out on it with HM on it are you?

Are you on clay, or rock, where its hard to get percolation? There are companies that test with dye. You may want to hire a good one.

denemante 01-16-2013 09:44 AM

I'm in Atlanta. During the peak of summer, I'd say there is perhaps a slight difference in the lushness of the grass above where I know my fields to be.

In winter, the grass is tan and dormant, and it's the rainy winter season when my backyard is wettest.

I called the health department just to see what/how they might "test" for a faulty field. But they gave me a classic answer - they just walk around and look at the ground. That doesn't tell me much.

I do have some standing water at places where I know the fields to be during/after heavy rain. But this doesn't mean there's a failing field. It does dry after a few days in the sun. There is also no smell. So if might just be a low spot.

To come full circle, I want to actually test the standing water and/or soil. For what? I don't know.

I could be 100% fine. This is just a peace-of-mind thing.

So I just figured that there must be some little test. An eyedropper you sample water with and drop into a tube, and if the tube turns green - it's polluted. Something like that.

The other reason I believe something like this to exist is because I heard a story of a homeowner who was told by the county they needed to replace their field. The homeowner didn't believe it, and had the ground tested. Sure enough, the county was wrong - it wasn't effluent - just rainwater.

Any ideas?

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