Septic Know How—It’s All About the Water
Maintaining the Effectiveness of Your Septic System
The quality of the water in the Kennisis lakes remains a concern to many property owners. We hear/read media reports stating that we should be concerned about the quality of water in our lakes. Often individual property owners are left wondering what they can do to help improve, or at least maintain, the quality of our lake water going forward. The two most important steps property owners can take are ensuring their shore line is as natural as possible and that their septic system is operating as effectively as possible. The Love Your Lake packages mailed to every property owner provide specific recommendations regarding the shore line based on the assessment completed for each and every property on our lakes.
Maintaining the effectiveness of our septic system may be the most important responsibility that belongs to each of us as property owners. Just as we expect our governments to maintain the infrastructure that serves our communities (roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, etc.) it is our responsibility to maintain the infrastructure we own. Failure to properly maintain our septic system impacts the quality of the water that we and our neighbours drink. In addition, declines in the quality of our lake water can erode property values over time.
Even if we are very careful about goes into our toilets and down our drains most of us don’t really know precisely how effectively our septic is operating. There are a variety of possible issues that only an expert can uncover. Just as modern science has taught us that a grass lawn near the lake shore is harmful to water quality, we now know that a failing septic system can do very serious damage to our lake. For example, in the 1960s and even early 1970s it was not uncommon to simply drain cottage plumbing into a buried steel drum. In the 1970s and early 1980s many septic tanks were made of steel. Both types of “tanks” likely long ago corroded and disintegrated leaving whatever goes down the drain to flow directly into our lake without the benefit of the filtering process of a working septic system. Owners of such systems should be replacing them before more irreversible harm is done to our lakes.
Issues are not limited to older septic systems. Due to shifting soil around new building construction and other issues a variety problems can occur in relatively new septic systems. Even relatively minor and simple failures can significantly reduce the performance of the system. Early identification can help our lakes and minimize the cost of needed repairs. The only way to know for certain if your septic system is operating effectively is by having a comprehensive inspection – much more than looking inside the tank – performed by a provincially licensed inspector. The inspector should be onsite to witness the pump out and provide a written report that will help you operate and maintain the system going forward.
Dysart has announced that a mandatory septic re-inspection program is coming to all waterfront properties. The KLCOA has also been told that property owners who proceed with a voluntary inspection will receive a “five year pass” if they complete a voluntary inspection and address any required repairs.
Most importantly by completing a voluntary inspection you can join the group of property owners who are confident their septic systems are not doing unnecessary harm to the waters of the Kennisis lakes.
Comments or questions may be directed to email@example.com, a KLCOA volunteer who is not in the septic business.
Septic System Health
In our region of Haliburton, and since all of our properties are near shorelines, it is particularly important to maintain our septic systems properly because our soil and bedrock conditions are not always optimum for treating wastewater. Incomplete treatment due to a poorly functioning septic system can result in health risks and water quality problems that affect our water, your property value and wildlife. Inadequate septic system wastewater treatment, as would be caused by leaking septage, can allow excess nutrients to reach our lakes, degrading our water quality and promoting algae or weed growth.
Algal blooms and abundant weeds not only make the lake unpleasant for swimming and boating, but they also affect drinking water quality and water quality for fish and wildlife habitat. The most serious concern related to failing septic systems is human health risks. Hepatitis, dysentery and other diseases are spread by bacteria, viruses and parasites in wastewater. These disease-causing organisms, called pathogens, could make near-shore water unsafe for recreation.
Shorelines and septics key to lake health
By Zach Cox
May 14, 2014 – Reproduced from the Haliburton County Echo
On Saturday, May 10, the sixth annual combined lake steward meeting and Coalition of Haliburton Property Owners’ Associations (CHA) annual general meeting was held at Fleming College. Comprised of 44 property owners’ associations from across Haliburton County, the CHA represents more than 77 water bodies and 12,500 waterfront properties. Featuring exhibitors from various organizations, several speakers and an open discussion period, the CHA event explored the current status of Haliburton County lakes and how they can be preserved and even bettered.
“The CHA has one, and only one, mission in life: protecting our lakes,” said CHA chairman Paul MacInnes to open the meeting. “We not only depend on them, we cherish them. Can you imagine the Highlands without county lakes? … If our lakes have problems, it has an impact on our social and cultural fabric, it has an impact on taxes that get paid to our municipalities.” While MacInnes noted such consequences, he indicated that the reason he himself was so passionate about preserving the lakes was for his children. “If we don’t do everything we can to protect our lakes, how can we explain that to our kids?” he asked. The organization has two areas of focus that were emphasized throughout the day: shorelines and septic tanks.
The first guest speaker to take to the microphone was Dr. Norman Yan, of the Ministry of Environment and York University. To give context to the importance of Haliburton County’s lakes, he showed a map of the world’s lakes, 40 per cent of which are in Canada. “We have unique stakeholder responsibilities here in Canada,” he said. “We’re really affecting a globally significant resource.”
Yan sought to highlight the fact that it is possible to make positive changes in the environment. “If you figure out what’s wrong, you can make things better.”
“What I want to do is do this quick tour through all the stressors that are affecting Haliburton and Muskoka Lakes,” he said, explaining that out of the 14 issues he would present, the first half were ones that were well on their way to repair. Yan talked about how entrophication, acid rain, DDT, lead, ozone depletion and lawn pesticides have all been responded to effectively. “Can we solve environmental problems?” Yan asked. “Absolutely.”
During his talk, Yan noted that “there is no place to throw things away,” and that whatever humanity does to the environment ends up impacting them. Using the example of toxic levels of lead being found in bloodstreams across the world due to lead in gasoline, Yan explained how regulations were applied, processes were changed and lead levels in bloodstreams fell below toxic levels. “The environment was contaminated, we figured it out, we found the source, we fixed it.”
“It takes just a few things: Knowledge, so we need to first recognize we have a problem … then it takes some sort of action … and that action cannot take place without will.” Yan encouraged the audience to take those three components and work towards eradicating other pressing issues. The current concerns for Haliburton that Yan spoke to were mercury, climate change, calcium decline, road salt, invasive species and novel chemicals.
Andrew Paterson, an inland lakes research scientist with the Dorset Environmental Science Centre, was the second to speak and his presentation focused mainly on the impact of climate change, demonstrated through the growth of blue-green algae. During his opening, Paterson drew parallels between water quality of lakes and cottage property values. “As you increase the [water] clarity by a meter, the prices on average, in Ontario, are about six per cent higher,” he stated.
Over the last couple decades, Paterson has been researching blue-green algae blossoms and his presentation touched on three locations: Lake of the Woods, the Hudson Bay Lowlands and the Haliburton/Muskoka area.
In 2005, Three Mile Lake in Muskoka made news headlines for the appearance of a blue-green algae scum that covered the lake surface. “Questions arise. Why is this happening? What is the cause? And, importantly, will it happen again?” According to Paterson the answer lies in climate change, with the warmer environments allowing for increased growth and bloom of the algae. Paterson noted that the scum on Three Mile Lake in 2005 did indeed impact property values.
Following Paterson, the audience was then treated to a showing of The Ribbon of Life, the CHA produced informational video featuring Fleming College professor Barb Elliot.
“In order to maintain a healthy lake ecosystem you need at least 75 per cent of your shoreline in its natural state,” said Elliot, standing on the edge of a lake. Talking to the camera, Elliot pointed out elements of a healthy shoreline and explained their importance, such as the nutrient cycle comprised of the decaying material found along natural shorelines and how the natural structure of shorelines reduce erosion. Changes that property owners make to their shorelines can be detrimental to the lake environment.
“As shoreline property owners there are certain things we may do that can negatively affect the health of our lake, which is not what we want to do. The good news is that we can still reverse these trends,” said Elliot in the video’s closing. A second video, Beginner’s Guide to Shoreline Stewardship, was also produced, and is a step-by-step guide on how shoreline property owners can best manage their shoreline to maintain lake health. The second video was not shown, but was available for purchase, in conjunction with The Ribbon of Life, both of which are also available online through the CHA website.
Before the close of the meeting the audience was given an opportunity to address questions to all three speakers. Questions ranged from erosion prevention to maintaining calcium levels using wood ash and Yan, Paterson and Elliot were more than happy to give their thoughts.
During the question period Yan promoted a global conscience: “We didn’t solve acid rain, we didn’t solve ozone depletion, we didn’t solve lead pollution, we didn’t solve DDT, we didn’t solve cosmetic pesticide use just by worrying about our own watershed.”
A global conscience is being embraced through the County Wide Water Testing Initiative, a new CHA project. The project, headed by Terry Moore and Debbie Balika, aims to form a collaborative effort between citizen scientists and government organizations. The intent is to train interested volunteers to take the necessary samples from the lakes which will then be sent to places such as the Dorset Environmental Science Centre for analysis. The analysis results will then be published by the CHA.
MacInnes also discussed another initiative in the works, the Shoreline Classification and Restoration Project. The idea was to rate the natural level of the shorelines on perhaps for or five lakes within the county, but when the call for applications was sent out, 45 lakes responded. “The goal is over the next four or five years we’ll get those 45 lakes in Haliburton County done so that every property owner on those lakes, other than the ones that opt out … will get their property classified and will get a customized package in the mail,” explained MacInnes, “ saying here’s how your property was rated, but most importantly, here’s some concrete things that you can do, for your specific property to improve it so that you better protect your lake.”
The CHA meeting was a call to action for everyone in attendance. “Act now,” said MacInnes. “This is the time to act, and how do we act? Septic health and shorelines. It’s that simple. Are they more important than organizing the local regatta? In my book, absolutely.”
MacInnes was very pleased with the meeting, noting that having the organization booths was a new and welcome feature. He was also thrilled with the attendees. “The enthusiasm, the passion, it’s phenomenal. I am so proud of this group of people.”
It’s All About the Water … the water we send down the drain!
It is very important to remember that everything you flush down the drain eventually makes its way back into the lake to some degree. This simple concept is the reason that it is so important to be vigilant and aware of what we use in the way of bleach, cleaners, anti-bacterial soaps, shampoos and particularly detergent for dishes and laundry. Common products we all use at home in the city are very destructive to all our cottage septic systems. The harsh products many commonly use at home on municipal systems are NOT suitable whatsoever for use in our cottage systems. Using these chlorine, phosphate and antibacterial based products deactivate our sceptic systems. We expect our systems to all handle the never ending load of waste, soaps, grease, cleaners, paper and lots of water.
The reality is, that countless sceptic systems are in a poor state of health and maintenance, inactivity, deactivation and failure. This can lead to tile bed failures, unpleasant odours, the need for frequent pump-out service and soil and water contamination. This holds true for all systems, NEW and OLD…!! It has been well documented that even systems just a few years old, newly installed are in this poor state of repair. This poor state of health will have adverse effects on our water quality in Kennisis Lake and other lakes downstream.
There are some key actions that you can take to prevent poor septic performance and septic failure:
- Use “Septic Smart” cleaning products, which are biodegradable and phosphate & chlorine free
- Conserve water – use common sense
- Divert water softener/iron filter backwash to sump drain
- Keep trees and shrubs at least 10ft from tile bed
- Have your tank pumped and/or inspected regularly – every 3 to 5 years
- Install an effluent filter in your septic tank to protect the tile bed
- Never drive, operate vehicles or heavy equipment on tile bed area
- Educate your family about the proper use of the septic system
- Use Septic System treatment to maintain your system that are certified by Environment Canada’s Ecologo Program
The Coalition of Haliburton Associations has produced a series of videos focused on water quality and other issues facing cottagers and Lake Associations in Haliburton County. The link below is a video in the “Lake Protectors Series” and features Rob Davis of EcoEthic presenting “Septic Know How – It’s All About the Water.” Rob is a well-respected expert on all matters “septic” and his “poop talks” at lake associations are informative and entertaining. Rob presented his “Septic Know How” talk at the KLCOA at one of our association meetings and led the Shoreline Assessment Project in 2008.