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AugustusGloop
AugustusGloop New Reader
5/8/12 8:11 a.m.

Last fall we bought 3 acres in a rural subdivision 10 minutes outside of town with the intention of building a house in a couple years. Other than what little I have read on the interweb about septic tanks, this will be my first experience.
My main question is, is it ever ok for the treated water from a home septic system to discharge above ground? The reason i ask? It appears the house next to ours has their tank discharging at the back of their property, which then runs down across the very back corner of mine which is overgrown and leads into a ravine on the property behind ours. I am told they have the standard septic tank, followed by a second tank with peat moss which is in place of the typical discharge field. I am told this is because of the composition of the ground, which has a large clay content, and had issues with the percolation test. The discharge from the peat tank is what is running out above ground. I am thinking this must somehow be acceptable as it should have been inspected during construction, it just seems odd to me, and of questionable sanitation. I don't want to be 'that' neighbor and come right in and start causing a ruckus, but I just don't want poo water running through my yard.

pinchvalve
pinchvalve MegaDork
5/8/12 8:13 a.m.

All I know is that the average septic system is full of crap.

BBsGarage
BBsGarage HalfDork
5/8/12 8:18 a.m.

Without pointing fingers (yet) ask your local building inspector if that is an acceptable way of dealing with poopy water. Every town is different.

RossD
RossD UltraDork
5/8/12 8:19 a.m.

There is a local person that will know everything about septic systems. Call your local municipality and ask for the state/regional inspector's name and ask that person. It's pretty specialized thing, IIRC, at least here in Wisconsin -there was only a handful of people qualified to inspect/test/judge/...

Curmudgeon
Curmudgeon MegaDork
5/8/12 8:40 a.m.

The basics of a septic system are the tank, which has enzymes/bacteria to break down the poop. As the tank fills, the water rises to the level of the discharge port which then (at least around here) sends the treated water to a 'leach field' and that's what you are seeing: the far end of the 'leach field'. The idea is for the treated water to 'leach' into the groundwater, in effect the soil becomes the final filtration device. The leach field can become clogged over time and lead to runoff like you describe. That can be a pricey fix, be prepeared to start a E36 M3storm (see what I did there? ) with the neighbor when you get the county etc involved. And you need to, because as you say poo water on your property is not only nasty it can lead to all sorts of problems with odor, diseases, you name it.

Again around here, generally if the ground won't 'perk' (water won't percolate or soak quickly into it) this can be fixed by digging trenches and then filling them with gravel. That will let the water perk quickly but it too will clog over time and it requires a large area which makes it not really feasible in subdivisions with small lots. Clay is a bitch to get to perk, sand is much easier. I'm going to guess that the peat moss tank you mention is the local version of the gravel leach field we see down here.

The local topography is going to have a part in all this as well, for instance if there's a lake or pond nearby there will be pretty strict regulations as to what can go in that body of water. That happened up here. Half the lots up here on Lake Murray that have septic tanks are 'grandfathered' under the old rules, as long as the original owner still lives there. Once it's sold, the new regs come into play and that can get EXPENSIVE. That's why you will still see a 14x70 mobile home between two McMansions.

cwh
cwh UberDork
5/8/12 9:33 a.m.

I have to say that there is no way that is legal. Dangerous, will hurt your property value, kids playing in the woods will find it. Neighbor knows what is going on, just does not want to deal with it. You need to take corrective steps.

Zomby Woof
Zomby Woof UltraDork
5/8/12 9:37 a.m.

A system that is too small or overloaded will also leak out like that.

1988RedT2
1988RedT2 SuperDork
5/8/12 9:44 a.m.

Doesn't sound right to me. County inspector is the guy you need to call.

Heck, around here, allegedly for the benefit of the Chesapeake Bay, the gubmint has taken to requiring a septic pump-out every five years, or alternatively pass a qualified inspection saying that it doesn't need pumping. Either way, you're paying every five years.

Hey, there's an idea. Sic the EPA on him!

foxtrapper
foxtrapper UberDork
5/8/12 9:55 a.m.

Sounds like the system has erroded a hole through the peat, creating a fast run.

Generally, the discharge water at that point is pretty safe. No, I wouldn't recommend swimming in it or making iced tea from it. But this discharge is far different than what goes in.

If this were my place, and the spot is a non-issue location, I'd probably just let it be.

cwh
cwh UberDork
5/8/12 10:37 a.m.

Take a water sample to the local health department. E Coli and a few more nasties WILL be present.

Zomby Woof
Zomby Woof UltraDork
5/8/12 10:41 a.m.

If it doesn't stink, it's probably fine.

Ratting your new neighbour out is a bad idea. Having a talk with him first isn't.

carguy123
carguy123 PowerDork
5/8/12 10:46 a.m.

Stink isn't everything. My neighbor has an aerobic system and when his "clean water" sprinkler heads get out of wack and hit my pond I get an algae bloom like you wouldn't believe.

Also walking through the mud soon after stirs up a heck of a stink.

Karl La Follette
Karl La Follette Dork
5/8/12 11:26 a.m.

If at all possible discharge laundry water in different system . Use common yeast once a month in tank .

914Driver
914Driver MegaDork
5/8/12 11:50 a.m.
Zomby Woof wrote: If it doesn't stink, it's probably fine. Ratting your new neighbour out is a bad idea. Having a talk with him first isn't.

If the neighbor isn't "receptive" to the idea, then the authorities show up on his door, you're busted/berkeleyed.

Just contact the building inspector and explain you questions and concerns.

That's just me .....

Dan

Conquest351
Conquest351 Dork
5/8/12 11:53 a.m.

Aerobic septic systems discharge grey water above ground with sprinklers. Read moar...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aerobic_treatment_system

wlkelley3
wlkelley3 Dork
5/8/12 11:56 a.m.

My house is on septic tank and has a seperate discharge leach field for the washer. Don't claim to know a lot about septics but do know it's not supposed to drain out. Ground acts as last filter, like as stated. Check local laws as they differ.

Hal
Hal Dork
5/8/12 12:04 p.m.

Having dealt with septic systems in two states (MD&PA), there is no way that an above ground discharge is legal!

Here in MD when there are perc problems the usual method used is a sand mound. Sand mound is a very large (6 to 10 truck loads) pile of sand coverd with dirt and seeded with grass. The discharge from the septic tank or tanks is piped into the sand mound either by gravity or with a pump. The sand mound must be replaced at a periodic interval which can be very expensive.

spitfirebill
spitfirebill SuperDork
5/8/12 12:25 p.m.

Each state can have different septic system requirements. Call you county Environmental Health Department. They usually handle septic tanks. They often are a branch of the state.

Its possible the sytem your neighbor has is allowed. I suspect it should not be leaking onto the gorund surface though. I've never heard of using peat, but I've seen pamphlets from a regulatory agency describing using an engineered wetland to treat sanitary waste.

spitfirebill
spitfirebill SuperDork
5/8/12 12:28 p.m.
Hal wrote: Here in MD when there are perc problems the usual method used is a sand mound. Sand mound is a very large (6 to 10 truck loads) pile of sand coverd with dirt and seeded with grass. The discharge from the septic tank or tanks is piped into the sand mound either by gravity or with a pump. The sand mound must be replaced at a periodic interval which can be very expensive.

Hal I had the pleasure to work on a property in Hampstead, MD that reportedly had the largest private septic tank system in the state. It had a ton of drain lines and two sand filters. The whole site was an odd one and I don't think the proposed project ever got authorized.

foxtrapper
foxtrapper UberDork
5/8/12 1:03 p.m.

Chuckle, Hampstead vs Carroll county, Carroll county vs MDE. It's entertaining, to say the least.

Brett_Murphy
Brett_Murphy Dork
5/8/12 3:44 p.m.

Have somebody come out and inspect your property for your septic tank, and just make sure they happen to notice what your neighbor's is doing at the same time. Ask him if it is legal, show up at his door and say "I was just getting my land surveyed for my septic tank, and the guy noticed yours was discharging and he said blah, blah, blah."

Or, you might be surprised and find out it is legal.

AugustusGloop
AugustusGloop New Reader
5/8/12 3:46 p.m.

I did contact the owner about my concerns first. Seems like a reasonable person, and willing to find a remedy to the issue, however given septic tanks and local requirements are an area I don't know much about, I am planning on contacting the county inspector to clarify exactly what the rules are, and hopefully go over the site together. I'm always a little skeptical of people's ongoing willingness to fix something once the solution exceeds some arbitrary limit they have in their mind of what it takes to correct the problem.

spitfirebill
spitfirebill SuperDork
5/8/12 3:53 p.m.
foxtrapper wrote: Chuckle, Hampstead vs Carroll county, Carroll county vs MDE. It's entertaining, to say the least.

Very few people will understand the true humor of that statement.

One thing I learned is they don't really care for southeners (maybe just hicks) and don't think you are going to just walk in and talk to anybody.

Curmudgeon
Curmudgeon MegaDork
5/8/12 4:32 p.m.

At least you have let him know that you have a concern. No matter what, you will have to have some sort of permit for your septic system and whoever shows up to check it out is going to be duty bound to report on theirs if it's not to code or is a health/safety hazard. You may have saved them a lot of trouble with the city/county, for which they should be somewhat grateful even if it does mean they have to fix it.

Way back when the septic tank at our house down here was having leach field problems. There were 3 vacant lots behind our house on the other side of a brick fence, someone bought the lots and in preparation for building houses dug an ENORMOUS French drain the full length of all 3 lots. My old man saw an opportunity, he got my brothers and I up at 5:30 AM on New Years' Day to dig a trench from our septic tank to the French drain and put a big plastic pipe in it, then cover up the, er, evidence. Saved him from redoing the leach field. But I will never forget digging that damn trench with a nasty hangover. The smell.... I gotta go now.

Toyman01
Toyman01 PowerDork
5/8/12 4:35 p.m.

The last couple we did were never permitted or inspected. We do them by the book because if you don't, they don't work for long. You've got to be pretty rural to get by with that though, like 40 miles out of town and in the middle of 400 acres.

Around here, I'm reasonably certain any type of above ground discharge would get you a visit from DHEC, and not a pleasant one. I've never heard of using peat moss in a system for an above ground discharge. Faulty drain fields will stop up and flow above ground though.

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