Septic Tank Liquid Infiltration in Present Day Tomhicken Village
Tomhicken village is a place where I have lived nearly all my life. It is a small simple town composed of two rows of houses. The bottom row sits at the bottom of a small hill. A moderate sized row of trees separates the two roads of Tomhicken village. My house is on the bottom row of the village on the right side of the main road which runs down the middle of our row with houses on both sides. The closer you get to the left side of this road the further you travel downhill. Until recently I never really thought about any problems in the area we might be having but when given this assignment I walked around and went about searching for a few questions I would like answered. During most moist days there is a faint foul smell around some of the properties along the main road. I asked the question, where is it coming from and how long has it been going on?
My house is located on one of the trouble spots hence we have had a lot of problems and are forced to call in our septic company at least once every two months to pump our septic tank. Recently I asked Sal, the main in charge of our septic company, what the problem in our front yard was. Finally I had stumbled upon an answer; the water present was the water from over-saturated or damaged leech fields and had been going on for nearly eight years, intensifying irregularly. I asked him if it was a big problem in the area and he said that it was surprisingly, to me, a very big problem because a local river ran down the hill on the left side of the main road. Furthermore a landfill, Zanolini’s is located about two and a half miles upstream from the river on a slightly higher elevated area.
I did some research on the topic of leech fields and septic tanks, and started to ask myself if the inhabitants of Tomhicken were themselves responsible, or if it was just overcrowding and gravity doing all of the work. What I came to find out is that many people in the area do not have ventilation pipes for their leech fields. This causes a buildup of gasses and water underneath the surface which can in turn damage leech fields by creating cracks in the soils and leeching water into the water table or causing water to flow up towards the streets simply because it has nowhere else to go. Already I could see the problem at hand was a mixture of locals possessing the correct amount of education of septic management and the possibility that the leech field water from the houses up the hill could be in fact draining underground down into our water basin and flooding us out. The problem of too many houses for a conventional leech field situation is being intensified by a recent push for development on the hilltop land. This would be adding several new houses uphill, which could add to the oversaturation of the leech fields.
The inhabitants of Tomhicken are not entirely to blame however. A big problem in the area is that a lot of the people living there cannot afford to dismantle their septic systems and move to the newly implemented “City Septic.” The move from private septic tanks to the new system is very expensive. A majority of the people simply do not have the money to renovate their houses septic systems.
A few people from the developing community up on the hill often complain about the smell during their drives through the main road. This causes some unrest in such a small town. Pressure is high for people to get their septic tanks pumped regularly and to prevent any water from gathering on the surface. My family went as far as to shovel 16tons of stone on top of our leech field to add more room for water to evaporate and stay out of sight. Other families have gone as far as to dig trenches on the side of their house with the problem present and let the excess water drain into them.
Throughout all the efforts put out from the citizens of Tomhicken village the end result is the same. A majority of the people in Tomhicken feel, very ignorantly, that the problem stems from the families on which property the problems are present on. Pressure is high to fix any problem the moment it starts due to threats of calling the DEP and having the problem surveyed and an ultimatum given. No one puts any thought into any of the underlying causes of the problem, quick to blame others to resolve issues on their main agenda, i.e, not having their property contain runoff. Some neighbors have gone as far as to build tiny walls along the outskirts of their property near the road to prevent any water from flowing across their properties into a draining grate.
The biggest drawback of the issue is that it affects everyone on some level even if the water infiltration is present or not on your property. A majority of Tomhicken has switched over from private wells to a company that provides well water from an aquifer up higher on the mountain. This raises costs on water and makes keeping your water lines protected a huge issue. Especially since most water line hubs are located along the main road where a majority of the drainage water flows downhill to drain into the river or local drainage grates.
While the citizens of Tomhicken are only concerned with the issues in the village I took the time to investigate the nearby river and landfill drainage areas. What I found was that there were a few medium sized lakes in which nothing but algae grew. These lakes were connected by manmade channels to a very large river that flows up against the valley’s mountainous wall. A majority of the time I spent in the wooded areas downhill of the village was spent dodging mud puddles or trying to figure out ways to simply navigate through the wooded area without ruining my shoes and possibly a pair of jeans. It became apparently obvious to me that the excess runoff from the village was a big problem. The companies that leased land for commercial use further down the main road had known about it for a while. As there were many man made damns and drainage lakes in place. No matter the weather outside, dry or rainy the wooded area downhill was abnormally wet.
Before I started to think of solutions to this very large scale problem, I decided to investigate if other similar incidents had occurred in other towns across the country. I found a few although not entirely the same relevant to my study of the problem.
One of the other areas I had found with a similar problem was, Pleasant Township, Pennsylvania. Resolving just a few years ago the problem in this town was very similar to the problem in Tomhicken village. Originally the community had settled on home-owned septic systems, but over the course of 20 years the systems had become damaged and the community was unable to afford repairs. The area was investigated by the Environmental Department of Protection and ordered to find a solution to the sewage runoff issues. This battle was fought in court over several years finally reaching a solution when County Environmental Specialist, Jennifer Swango, provided a means to apply for grants to implement of a township wide sewage system. At first the resolution was greeted with negativity from the local townspeople but after the grants had been established more money was set aside to further improve the quality of the sewage systems in the area, the attitudes had shifted to a more positive outlook.
After reading this story a second thought came to my mind. Why was this issue so important that the DEP was willing to fight a court battle over it? The answer I came to realize was that the sewage runoff affects more areas than just your local one. The runoff from one house can end up in a river which can take it for miles downstream polluting other areas. So the runoff of a whole community can most certainly affect ecosystems far away from their own development. The large dead lakes around the low elevation areas of Tomhicken prove that point entirely. Streams and rivers for miles around the town are becoming increasing polluted. So the problem at hand is how do we stop the sewage infiltration and prevent the problem from becoming large enough the DEP Steps in and sanctions the properties responsible for the issues?
Approaching this from a stewardship worldview I firmly believe we can manage our ecosystem and reduce the input of pollutants in order to keep our community and environment intact and healthy. If we are to care for our planet and maintain it for our future generation(s) we must act now and help stop this problem. However, I am not the first one to try and do this in the village of Tomhicken. It had been attempted before and failed.
About five years ago development uphill sparked an interest in “City Septic” or the filtering of all the wastes and septic water through underground pipes to a central processing plant, rather than through leech fields and septic tanks. While for a small minority of the population this has been a great alternative option, for a majority it remains an impossible proposition financially. However the years have gone on more underground septic lines have been installed, even though man remain unconnected to them, and even a few sewage grates have been put in place to help drain extra run off by the county. While this has worked wonders for eliminating extra water runoff it does little to actually solve the problem at hand.
My solution is a simple one. However it offers many advantages, and possible ways to achieve the same goal. Firstly I feel that the county should offer grant programs to help the low income families adjust. Not only would this allow the whole community to go to “city septic” but it would also be a benefit to the environment. However the drawback is that the overseeing county, Sugarloaf, is not as wealthy as we would hope and cannot afford this. To do so would mean raising taxes which in the end is something people would not want to have.
Secondly, since people value their bank accounts over the health of the environment around them. I would like to install ventilation shafts in everyone’s septic leech field. This can be done with cheap perforated PCP piping and a drill. The installation of these extra ventilation pipes would allow for the trapped water and gasses a way to escape the soil and evaporate or disperse without causing harm to the strata of soils in their path. While not a complete fix on the problem at large I believe it would drastically increase the net capacity of these leech fields and allow for more water to be handled without reaching the surface and flowing downhill.
I think this solution will work for quite a few reasons. Firstly it is cheap. People love cheap fixes to expensive problems. Secondly it requires little effort on everyone’s part. Thirdly, a lot of the newer homes are build with ventilation shafts hence the need to install new ones is only present in the older homes downhill or along the second road. Finally if people were to understand why they are drilling these ventilation pipes in the first place perhaps they will take a better look at the problem as a whole. When you try to fix a problem you have to try to understand it. So by involving the community in an effort to understand it and fix it I could get more people on board to help prevent it.
Home Owner Manual for Septic Tank and Leech Fields. (2009, March 27). Retrieved March 18, 2010, from Enviromental Management: http://www.co.el-dorado.ca.us/emd/envhealth/homeowner_septic.html
Kraner, A. (2007, May 3). Pleasant Township Resident Pushing For Community Sewage System. Retrieved March 18, 2010, from North Manchester News-Journal: http://www.nmpaper.com/front.php