By Deb Greenwood

 “Spring: ah, the budding of trees and flowers, and the fresh smell of … sewage?”

This can be a sign of issues with your septic system, which is a strong warning that repairs are needed or the septic tank needs to be replaced. Here are some ideas of why your yard may smell like sewage and what you can do to get rid of the awful smell.

Clogged Drain Field

Your septic tank functions with the ability to separate the solids and liquids inside the system. The solids sink, and a field of drain lines siphon off the liquid and return it to the ground near your home so the tank will not fill up.

– Sometimes, either because of freezing temperatures or because the solids have caused a blockage, the drain field can become clogged, and the liquid cannot escape from the main tank as intended. If this happens, the tank can fill up and overflow, causing the sewage odour to come up through the ground.  This clog can cause your yard to smell like sewage but there also other signs that confirm a clog is the main issue.

– If your drain field is clogged you might also see wet spots on your lawn like puddles or even sewage floating nearby as well.

– Additionally, slow running drains are also another sign and a good indicator it’s time to contact a professional septic company to undergo a septic system inspection and analysis.

Overflowing Septic Tank

– As the septic tank is used, waste continues to collect in the bottom of the septic tank.  Ultimately, a tank that has been properly designed and installed will have enough space for around three to five years of safe accumulation of waste. When the sewage level increases beyond this point, the waste has less time to settle properly before leaving the tank.

– To prevent this, the tank must be pumped out.

“My septic tank hasn’t been pumped in years, and there is no problem!”

You might not see a problem in your backyard, but poorly maintained septic systems can contaminate drinking water and surface water bodies.

Surface water soaks into the ground, enters the water table, and flows into the nearby brooks, lakes and oceans near your home.  If your tank is full or drain field is clogged, you are polluting your environment with pathogens, coliform and bacteria.

“My well is too deep to be contaminated!”

Maybe. Do you know how deep your well is? If the aquifer your well is tapped into is confined, the water is usually very deep, very old and un-contaminated.  However, most water on the North Mountain is from surficial aquifers of groundwater.  Groundwater is water that is stored under the earth’s surface within soil and rock layers. When rain falls, only a small portion of the water flows across the ground as runoff and enters streams or rivers. Much of this water remains trapped in the soil and percolates (seeps) deep into the ground and becomes groundwater. Once surface water becomes groundwater it can remain underground anywhere between a few days to thousands of years. In many cases, groundwater is a direct part of the surface water system and transitions between flowing above ground and underground regularly.

“North Mountain water is the BEST!”

Yes! The North Mountain has “young” water, which hasn’t travelled far.  The groundwater travels mainly through the basalt fractures, and the fractures are interconnected. The water follows the sub-vertical fractures, stores in surficial aquifers near bedrock layers. The northern slope is between 4º and 12º, northward towards the Bay of Fundy. The North Mountain southern slope contributes significant water to the valley aquifers!  Groundwater commonly contains less contamination than surface water because the rock tends to act as a filter to remove some contaminants. Imagine that rain falls and the rainwater soaks into the ground. The plants use as many nutrients as they can and then the water continues to filter down through clay, sand and porous rock filtering the water much like a charcoal filter might clean your drinking water at home. Eventually this groundwater finds a home in an aquifer or trapped between levels of rock creating a water table. This is the water you most often drink from your well. Due to the minerals picked up while filtering through the rocks, groundwater is typically considered to be “hard” water.

“My water looks and smells clean!”

Coliform and bacteria have no taste, smell or colour. The main source of pathogens in drinking water is the contamination from human or animal waste from improperly septic and sewage discharge, leaching of manure, storm water run-off.   If your water tests results find bacteria and coliform to be present, your water is NOT safe to drink.

“Maybe my water isn’t so clean?”

The only way to know if your water is clean is to test your water.

Nova Scotia Health Authority has an easy way to find out.  Pick up a Water Sample testing kit at Western Kings Memorial Health Care in Berwick.  Follow the instructions to test, drop it off in Kentville for analysis, and wait for the results.

“It’s So Complicated!”

Septic system maintenance is not complicated and does not have to be expensive. Here are the easy steps:

– INSPECT and PUMP frequently.

– Use water EFFICIENTLY.

– NEVER PARK or drive on your drain field.

– Keep PLANTS at a distance from your tank and drain field.

– PLACE roof drains, sump pumps, rainfall drainage away from septic tank and field. Excess water slows down the wastewater treatment process.

“I want to be a good neighbour, and I want to protect the environment.”

Easy!  Look around your yard and locate your septic tank and septic field.  If you can’t find it, you can call a plumber or septic expert to find it for you.

Have the interior of the septic system inspected and pumped.

Locate your well and have it inspected. Oops, can’t find it?  Ask your plumber to show you!  While you’re at it, ask the plumber to replace any old lead pipes in your plumbing system.

Now that your home water and waste systems are inspected and clean, it’s time to get on that bus and join your fellow citizens in the Public Protests to clean the disgusting Pictou County pulp mill, and to stop the insane NS Govt clear-cutting.