Water Causes Problems
Santa Cruz County has strict regulations relating to septic systems in the San Lorenzo Valley that have been in place since 1995, because our Watershed has the highest septic system density of any comparable area in the State! This has resulted in extraordinarily high nitrate levels in the River and creeks, so the main goal of the regulations is to help insure the proper functioning and maintenance of septic systems to prevent effluent contamination of our waterways. As a resident in an area without sewers, you may not realize that regular maintenance of your septic system is actually considerably less expensive than the sewer fees charged in local areas with sewers.
If you have ever had a neighbor with a malfunctioning septic system, you will appreciate the importance of respecting and supporting the enforcement of the regulations. They are a good thing!
Importantly, if your septic system needs significant repairs or improvements, the County Environmental Health Service has very low-cost loans available to residents to enable them to have those repairs done!
Making sure your septic system works, especially in the winter, is mainly a function of water. Click here for an excellent brochure (.pdf) detailing how a septic system works, what can cause it to malfunction, how to recognize problems, and how it should be maintained.
In general, too much water is the main reason for poorly performing septic systems — either coming from your personal water use, from rainfall or from high groundwater. Water reduces the effectiveness of the process in the septic tank itself – that’s your personal water use, and can overwhelm the leach lines so that they are completely ineffective and you may end up with effluent coming to the surface. High groundwater contributes to the latter as well.
Right now you should make every effort to reduce your water use, from installing low-flow showerheads and toilets to only running your dish and clothes washing machines with full loads. It is highly recommended that you not use your garbage disposal if you have one; it adds enormously to the amount of solids, filling your tank far more quickly. Water conservation is not just for the health of your septic system, it’s also important for the long-term health of our water system and our watershed; the brochure provides many suggestions for water conservation.
Regular inspection of your septic system will help assure its proper functioning and give you ample warning when it is time to put in new leach lines or consider an innovative system to overcome high groundwater. Don’t wait for problems to start; that will only make repairs more expensive.