Many homeowners rely on septic systems to treat their household wastewater. Unfortunately, these systems are often not thought of until issues arise and treatment or maintenance is required. To help reduce the number of surprises, it is helpful to prepare for all events and situations, even the most unique ones. This factsheet will go over unique situations common to the Southeastern United States and what that means for your septic system.
Flooding and Major Storm Events
Whether you’ve recently experienced a tropical hurricane or just an intense summer thunderstorm, precipitation and flood waters have the potential to impact your septic system drastically. An overly saturated drainfield can cause your septic system to malfunction by causing it to slow down or even stop the treatment process. This could result in your system backing up into your home. The good news is there are steps you can take to help protect your system before, during, and after a flood.
By properly maintaining your septic system, you are ultimately better protecting it from the stresses of flood waters before they even begin. Check and ensure that any stormwater runoff from rain events or lawn irrigation diverts away from the drainfield. For more information on ways to reduce stormwater runoff, see HGIC 1884, Water Management in the Home Landscape.
If you are currently experiencing a flood and have standing water on your drainfield, limit non-essential water use. This could include reducing the use of water-based appliances and shower times. It is also important to avoid any contact with floodwaters on or near a septic drainfield, as the water could likely be contaminated.
Once floodwaters have receded, contact a septic system professional. They will help assess any damage and establish the next steps if needed. It is also a good idea to not have your system pumped during or just after heavy rain events, as pumping out a submerged underground tank in saturated soil could cause it to float.
Although below-freezing temperatures and winter weather are not typically in the forecast for the Southeastern US, septic system owners should be prepared if these conditions occur. Proactive measures include installing additional insulation to a system to help protect plumbing from freezing. If your system has sustained damage due to harsh winters, contact a septic system professional. If you experience winter weather or a storm event that has left you without power, your septic system may or may not continue to work, depending on the type of system you have. If your system depends on electricity to operate, it will not be able to function correctly. Gravity-based systems should operate normally during an outage.
Periods of Overuse
There are certain times of the year when your septic system may experience overuse due to an abundance of guests in the household. By maintaining your system and having it routinely inspected, you further ensure your septic system is functioning properly and that your added guests will not push it over the limit. It is also important that you remind guests not to park on the drainfield, as this could damage your system and lead to system backups.
Communication is key when it comes to having renters on a property that has a septic system. Remind tenants to only flush items that are safe for septic systems and to be wise when it comes to water use by staggering usage. You will also want to ensure that there are not more people staying in your house than your septic system can support. Visit EPA’s Owners of Rental Property with Septic Systems website for more information and downloadable outreach materials.
For septic owners who also have a private well on their property, make sure to follow state distancing guidelines to help prevent pollutants from your wastewater from entering your drinking water. That distance is a minimum of 75 ft between the septic system and well for South Carolina. It is critical to follow these guidelines as it helps to protect the homeowner and surrounding neighbor’s health. Well water that becomes contaminated with wastewater can introduce bacteria or viruses to your drinking water source. To learn more about drinking water and recommended testing, read HGIC 3870, Testing Drinking Water.
Live in a Tribal Community or Reservation?
If you live on a reservation or within a Tribal community, there are many resources available related to septic system management. More information can be found on the EPA Using a Responsible Management Entity (RME) to Manage Tribal Onsite (Septic) Wastewater Treatment Systems.
We all encounter unique situations that leave us searching for answers, so whether you’ve recently experienced a flooding event, winter weather, or a natural disaster, it is always a good idea to have your system inspected by a professional. This can give you peace of mind that your septic system is functioning properly. Make sure that your septic system is thought of during all situations and not just an afterthought. A healthy system will benefit your household needs, wallet, and the environment!
If you would like more information on other topics related to septic systems, check out
HGIC 1895, Be Septic Safe: Considerations for New Septic System Users, Locating the System, & Basic Maintenance; HGIC 1896, Be Septic Safe: Best Practices for Septic System Maintenance; and HGIC 1897, Be Septic Safe: Septic Failures, or Clemson’s Be Septic Safe.
Originally published 05/22