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Flooding Can Affect Septic Systems

If you have a septic system, the drains in your home may run slowly or back up during a flood.

 “The septic tank generally is blamed, but a flooded or saturated drain field usually is the cause of these problems,” says Tom Scherer, North Dakota State University Extension Service agricultural engineer. “Water can’t flow out of the septic tank into the drain field, so it backs up into the tank, and when the tank is full, the water backs up into the house.”

 Pumping out the tank is a temporary solution because it will provide relief for only four or five days. Pumping also could be a costly mistake because it could cause the tank to try to float out of the ground and damage the inlet and outlet pipes.

 “The best solution is to plug all the drains in the basement and drastically reduce water use in the house,” Scherer says.

 Here are some ways to cut water use:

  • Check faucets, showerheads, toilets, sinks and other water-using devices for leaks and repair them as soon as possible.
  • Don’t drain water from a basement sump pump into the septic system.
  • Don’t let water from roof gutters run into the drain field area.
  • Reduce the number of times you flush the toilet.
  • Reduce the number of showers or baths you take. A good rule is one bath or shower per person every other day.
  • Don’t use the dishwasher or garbage disposal.
  • Don’t do laundry. Take your dirty clothes to a commercial laundry if possible.

 “Common sense is the key to reducing water use in the house,” Scherer says. “Remember, the drain field is designed to handle the amount of water normally discharged from a house. Its ability to handle household water becomes severely limited when water from rain, melted snow or flooding flows into it as well.”

 For more information, visit www.ag.ndsu.edu/flood or www.extension.org/Floods

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