Septic Systems May Be Affected By Flooding
Flooding is one of the most common natural disasters world wide. While there may be a variety of ways in which they can occur, the effects of a flood can be devastating. The physical damage to homes, roads, structures, businesses, cars, and other personal belongings can amount to billions of dollars. Aside from disrupting lives, people can also be injured or killed by the raising water and the damage that they cause. Flood waters can carry pathogens that cause many illnesses and diseases such hepatitis and dysentery. The untreated sewage in septic systems carry some of these pathogens. Flooding creates a potential for damage to septic tank systems, taking action before,during and after a flood may minimize potential health risks and damage to the system.
There is not much that can be done to prevent a flood. Because flooding can sometimes occur in a matter of minutes they are not easy to predict. Other kinds of flooding may allow time for a flood warning to be broadcasted on a local news station. If a flood warning is issued in the area for which you live, do not pump out your septic system. An empty septic tank will become buoyant in saturated soil, this will cause the tank to “float” up, and even pop out of the dirt. This can cause inlet and outlet pipes to break, a costly and major repair. Use a septic tank treatment that contains bacteria and enzymes, to activate and boost the bacteria in the septic tank. The bacteria will decompose the solid waste in the tank and make room for the extra water it will be holding because of a saturated drainfield. Vehicles and heavy equipment should never be driven over the drainfield, especially if heavy rain or flooding is expected. This will prevent the soil from being compacted, which will reduce the ability of the drainfield to treat water.
If the drainfield or ground above the septic tank is saturated and covered by flood waters the system will not work. When the drainfield is saturated or flooded drains may run slowly or back up. This is because water cannot flow out of the septic tank into the drainfield, so the water backs up into the tank. When the septic tank becomes full, it backs up into the home. Pumping the septic tank will only temporarily fix this problem for 4-5 days, however emptying the tank may also cause the tank to float out of the ground. The best solution is to plug all drains in the basement ( to reduce sewage back-ups ), and most importantly reduce all water use in the home. Additional water added due to household use can cause poorly treated sewage to surface in your yard or raw sewage to back up into your home.
Ways water usage can be reduced :
- Check faucets, toilets and other plumbing fixtures for leaks and immediately repair them
- Don’t drain basement flood water from sump pumps into the septic system, make sure it drains away from the drainfield as well.
- Reduce the number of times you flush the toilet.
- Don’t let gutters run into drainfield area
- Reduce the amount of showers taken to 1 per person every other day (during flood)
- Don’t use a dishwater or garbage disposal
- Do not do laundry (while flooded)
After a flood you may take action to recover your septic system or to minimize the damage that may have been caused. Before using the septic system it should be pumped out. Silt and other debris may have entered the septic tank, if it flows into the drainfiled it could cause major clogs and damage. If pesticides and petroleum products entered the tank the could be detrimental to the health of the bacteria in the septic tank. Use a septic tank treatment that contains bacteria and enzymes to replenish bacteria that is killed from these harmful contaminants and bacteria that is removed from pumping out the tank. It is important that the tank does not remain empty so that it does not float.
Some septic tanks have electrical components. Make sure to disconnect the circuit that controls electrical pump tanks to prevent electrical hazards. Check all electrical connections for damage or wear before turning any power back on.
To protect the drainfield from compacting ,avoid all traffic over the area. After a flood, home restoration and clean-up sometimes calls for heavy equipment. Make sure there is no foot traffic, heavy equipment or vehicles driven on the drainfield area. Compacting the dirt can cause the drainfield to fail.
Check to make sure that the manhole cover to the septic tank is securely in place. Also check that inspection ports are not blocked or damaged. Make sure there is not animal damage or intrusion in the drainfield area. Vegetation over the septic tank and drainfield insulates the septic system components and helps with drainage. Repair any erosion damage. Replace sod or reseed as necessary to provide a good plant cover. If grass does not grow back before winter, you may need to mulch the area to provide insulation.
If sewage backed up into the home, make sure to disinfect thoroughly. Pathogens that cause disease are present in untreated sewage. Do not allow disinfectants to get into the septic system because they are harmful to the bacteria in the septic tank. After using any disinfectants or bleach make sure to use a septic tank treatment within 24 hours to replace and replenish the bacteria the is killed.
After flood water receded from drainfield and the surrounding soil dries, the tank should run normally. If the drainfield still will not receive the effluent from the septic tank the pipes or soil may be clogged. Use a septic tank treatment with bacteria to eliminate clogs.
Heavy rains and flood waters cause slides to partially or completely cover septic system components with rocks, mud, or silt, which affect the operational integrity of a septic system, especially the drainfield. Make sure to take special care to remove the slides, and erosion to protect septic system components.
Flood waters can also cause components of a septic system to partially or completely wash away. Before just adding fill or try to construct new components it is important to consult a licensed septic tank professional. Using a septic tank treatment product may help eliminate clogs, back ups, and odors. However, if problems persist it is important to contact a professional so that you can reduce the risk of health and safety problems. Unfortunately floods devastate, disrupt and destroy many things, by following some of these tips, hopefully it will not destroy your septic system.