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Water Disposal Systems   arrow

Living With Your On-Site Sewage Disposal System

Managing your septic system is a very important aspect of living “in the country”. Ensuring  the system is cared for and properly maintained is your responsibility. A septic system is an individual wastewater treatment system using soil to treat small wastewater flows from a residence. A conventional system consists of a septic tank and a drain or “leach” field.  This is a simple system, but it must be adequately maintained. Neglecting  a septic tank is the most common cause of damage to the leach field. When the tank is not pumped routinely, sludge builds up to the point where it is carried into the leach field and blocks the flow of liquid into the soil. When this occurs, the leach field must be replaced, which is an expensive project.

Many homeowners inquire about the best type of septic additive for their system. The answer to this is very simple:  There isn’t one!  Proper use will ensure a healthy and stable bacterial population. Bacteria are vital to the breakdown of the solids. The best way to prevent septic failure is to observe a routine pumping schedule.

About the Septic System

The first stage in securing a proper system is via the septic tank. All the water used in your home is diverted to this   underground tank. It is a watertight container, usually made of concrete, that temporarily holds materials while heavy solids settle out. These solids are primarily decomposed by bacteria, however, the solids do accumulate requiring removal to ensure proper functioning of the system for the long term.

The drain field (or leach field) allows effluent (the liquid left after the solids have settled out) to flow from the septic tank through underground pipes to seep into the gravel and then into the soil. This is the second stage in the wastewater treatment process. Nutrients, organic materials and pollutants in the effluent are degraded by soil microbes. These materials are removed from the water before reaching groundwater.

 Engineered Systems

A conventional system is not always the best approach.  Some sites require special engineering because of inappropriate soils (high clay or sand content), shallow bedrock or a high groundwater table. Engineered systems require professional design and installation. Your installer will have tips for the operation and maintenance of these special systems.


Inspect your tank annually for sludge level and structural integrity and pump your tank according to the recommended intervals. The costs for regular inspection and pumping are far less than repairing and/or replacing your system.

Tank Size (gallons) How often your tank should be pumped (in years)
1 person 2 people 3 people 4 people 5 people 6 people
1,000 12 6 4 3 2 2
1,250 16 8 5 3 3 2
1,500 19 9 6 4 3 3

Septic Do:

  1. Know where your system is located: keep a diagram showing the location of your system
  2. Inspect your system every year
  3. Pump your tank regularly
  4. Keep records of pumping, inspection, and other maintenance
  5. Repair leaking faucets and toilets
  6. Install washing machine lint and effluent filters
  7. Conserve water to reduce wastewater
  8. Divert roof drains and surface water away from drain field
  9. Limit the use of drain solvents, household chemicals, strong disinfectants and chlorine
  10. Call a professional when you have questions

 Septic Don’t:

  1. Park, drive vehicles over, or allow large animals on any part of your septic system
  2. Place sprinkler systems close to the leach field
  3. Dig or build on top of your septic system
  4. Plant deep-rooted plants over the drain field
  5. Dispose of sanitary napkins, diapers, cooking oil, solvents, paint, etc. Use garbage disposals sparingly, do not put coffee grounds, fats, or meats into a septic system
  6. Breathe emitted tank gasses – these are toxic
  7. Ignore odors, wet or sunken spots, or lush growth above the drain field

Building Your System

Contact the Regional Building Department for a permit.  Early in the process, an Environmental Health Department signature is required.  Once the permit process is underway, you will get an application for an Individual Sewage Disposal System and a packet that will help to guide you through the process.  The Environmental Health Department will help make the process go smoother, so remember to contact them early on.

For additional information or for help, contact:

Routt County Environmental Health Department

136 6th Street, Routt County Courthouse Annex, 2nd Floor

Phone: (970) 870-5588