2017-04-06 / Front Page

Septic fields reciprocate if treated nice

By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff


ABOUT 90 percent of the households in Leelanau County are served by on-site septic systems. ABOUT 90 percent of the households in Leelanau County are served by on-site septic systems. Ninety percent of the homes in Leelanau County use on-site septic systems to treat household waste.

So how can you ensure your septic system is working efficiently and not polluting groundwater or nearby lakes and streams?

Experts say it takes a little TLC.

“As a general rule, you need a pump-out or cleaning every two to three years,” said Joe Williams of Williams & Bay Pumping Service in Maple City. “Once a year, for older systems (more than 30 years old) or those by the lake.”

In addition, regular maintenance should include lifting the lid on the septic tank to check for roots as well as decay of the top of the tank.

Williams has been educating customers on the benefits of taking care of septic waste for more than 33 years. He’s owned his own pumping service for the past 24 years.

He began working with his father, Carl (Ron) Williams of Cedar in 1983. Ten years later he took over the family business.

“Most systems are rated for 25 to 30 years, but they can last longer with prudent use and regular maintenance,” he said offering an analogy. “Compare it to a car. A car with 200,000 miles is going to need more attention than a brand new model.”

In 2011, the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department surveyed all properties with 500 feet of Lake Leelanau and north Lake Leelanau.

According to the report, 507 parcels had approved systems and 384 had old systems built prior to 1972. Another 242 homes needed holding tanks, and 473 lots were vacant.

The study found that only about half of the substandard systems were suitable for on-site upgrades.

Many mortgage companies require inspections when lending money to soonto be homeowners. When not required by lenders, smart home buyers often call for inspection of a home before making an offer.

To address environmental concerns, some communities within the five-county area have enacted ordinances requiring inspections when property changes hands. At the federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency’s “SepticSmart” program suggests having systems inspected by a licensed contractor every three to five years.

“I do about 300 inspections a year at the time of transfer,” said Williams, adding that the inspections are much more detailed than those done periodically for regular homeowners. “It takes a lot of time to decipher the different rules and where they apply.”

Benzie County has had a POS ordinance since 1990, and Kalkaska and Manistee counties have similar ordinances in place. Long Lake Township in Grand Traverse County has its own ordinance.

Closer to home, Glen Arbor Township adopted a POS ordinance in 2014. The Village of Empire adopted a similar ordinance the previous year that has been amended to eliminate a need to make upgrades or repairs to systems that fail.

The EPA SepticSmart program suggests several things that can be done to protect your home, health, environment and property value.

Included are putting grease in a container to harden and taken to a landfill rather than pouring it down the drain; refraining from dumping cigarette butts, cat litter and similar items in the commode; and staggering use of water-generating appliances such as dishwashers if your system has not be pumped in a long time.

Local, state and federal agencies have a hand in ensuring proper disposal of waste and protection of water resources.

The Great Lakes represent 84 percent of the surface water in North America and 21 percent of the world’s supply of fresh water.

“We have the best water in the world,” Fountain said. “We need to keep it clean.”

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