Washington waters — ours to protect

More than 60 percent of water pollution comes from things like cars leaking oil, fertilizers and pesticides from farms and gardens, failing septic tanks, pet waste, and fuel spills from recreational boating. All these small, dispersed sources add up to a big pollution problem. But each of us can make small changes at home, at play, and at work to help keep water clean — and that adds up to a pollution solution.


On-site septic systems

Septic systems need regular maintenance. Without it, they can fail and overflow. Runoff can then carry untreated sewage across your yard to your neighbor’s property or into surface waters — lakes, streams, rivers or even directly into Puget Sound. Public health impacts from failing septic systems can be widespread. Bacteria, viruses, and other pollutants from the sewage can contaminate fish and shellfish and make water unsafe for swimming or drinking.

What you can do to help

  • Get regular inspections and maintenance. Check with your county environmental health office for advice. You may be able to do this yourself. The current Board of Health rule for on-site sewage systems requires a full evaluation every one to three years of systems with a septic tank and gravity drainfield. All other systems must have a yearly evaluation. You may not need to pump every time, but it’s wise to budget as though you will.

  • Choose a date or time of the year for inspection that’s easy to remember. Mark it on the calendar.

  • Learn how to keep your system functioning — what you can and can’t flush or pour down the drain. No pet waste, medications, grease, or toxic chemicals. If you have a garbage disposal, don’t use it or use it sparingly.

  • Keep trees at least 30 feet from the edge of your drainfield to keep their roots from invading. And never drive over the system.

  • Watch for cues that your tank is nearing capacity or your system is failing. Got odors? Get a professtional out to check it right away, and to fix it, if needed.

  • Conserve water. Too much water can cause solids to escape your tank and plug your drainfield.

  • Repair or replace your system if  it fails or is otherwise inadequate. Find out about low-interest loans for septic repairs or replacement.

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