Septic Systems and Our Watershed
When we think of the causes of harmful flow into our Lake and its watershed and groundwater, we often do not consider a factor lying right outside our doors—our septic systems. Properly installed and maintained, these systems can be effective safe and long-lasting. Improperly maintained systems can result in significant surface and groundwater pollution.
Improperly functioning septic systems can result in the flow of phosphates, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and other contaminants finding their way into the waters off our property, resulting in algae blooms and other shoreline contamination. It is estimated that systems located hundreds of feet from the lake can cause contamination by contaminating groundwater which migrates to the lake. Many of the systems located around our lake, particularly the older systems, lie much closer.
Signs of developing problems may include backing up sinks or toilets, lush green areas, wet areas or odor around the drainfield, or colored sediment or weed and algae growth along the shoreline.
Simple steps can be taken to avoid contamination from your septic system:
- Test and pump systems regularly. Systems over 20 years old should be tested for seepage. Systems should be inspected and if needed, pumped every 2 to 3 years.
- Limit the use of water through a system, and the use of garbage disposals (compost happens!)
- Avoid disposing of medicines or chemicals in the system.
- Avoid additives to the system.
- Maintain a healthy greenbelt area to filter septic nutrients migrating to the lake.
Over time, we will need to address and replace many of the older systems around the lakeshore. In the meantime, proper maintenance can eliminate much harmful flow into our Lake.
For more information, contact the County Health Department or the local MSU Extension Office. Additional information can be found at SepticSystems-WaterQualityoutlines, and at the Michigan State University Extension website.