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Health Points: What do you need to know about your private septic system?

By Lana Sanstrom, LEHP
When it comes to waste generated in the bathroom or even the water from the kitchen sink, most people are just glad to have it leave their home. It seems like people are always caught at the most unexpected and vulnerable time when the urgent problem of sewage back-up occurs in their home. The last situation anyone wants is to have sewage flowing back into their house through the basement, the bathtub, a sink or from a toilet which will not drain. This back-up can occur because the septic tank is not able to empty fast enough because it is too full in the first place. It is also possibly due to the seepage field possibly being flooded by a seasonal high water table or not being sized correctly from many years ago.

A temporary fix for an overflowing septic tank can sometimes be accomplished by having the septic tank pumped which should be done every three to five years anyway to remove the sludge. This keeps the tank operating and gives the seepage field time to heal itself as the seasonal high water table lowers. An old system may have to be replaced, but this will buy the homeowner some time until that decision can be made.

The following is a list of some other septic system “do’s and don’ts”:


  • Have your septic system pumped out every three to five years. There are licensed pumpers who do this; contact the health department is assistance is needed in locating one.
  • Make certain your septic system is up to code. The health department has a record of most septic systems installed back to 1976 if you cannot locate yours or have no knowledge of its size or layout. When requesting information, it is helpful to have the original owner’s name and have an idea of the construction date. With 911 addressing not being in use prior to the early 1990s, it is hard to determine the correct septic system paperwork with a Rural Route # or directions to “a house two houses east of the old school house.” Keep a drawing of your septic system for reference for when emergencies arise.
  • Conserve water to prevent overload to your system. A leaky faucet can cause too much water to flood your septic system.
  • Do know the procedures for making repairs or remodeling your system. In Douglas County, to renovate your septic system, you MUST have a permit.


  • Use a garbage disposal without checking with your local ordinances, your system manufacturer, AND your contractor to insure your septic system can handle the additional waste. If the house did not have a garbage disposal at the time the system was installed, the tank may not be large enough. The disposal is only meant for small particles of food that make it to the drain; throw garbage in the trash not down the sink.
  • Allow excess water from drains, pumps, or drainage paths to filter into your septic system.
  • Drive over or park on top of your septic system.
  • Build, pour concrete, or place a deck/patio over a septic system.
  • Dump non-biodegradables into your toilet or drain. Chemicals, grease, gasoline, oil, paint, pesticides, antifreeze, and other chemical liquids will cause dangerous run-off from your system as well as kill the microbes that make your septic system function.

When there haven’t been large amounts of rainfall and any of the following are noticed, your system should be evaluated for possible failure. Sometimes it can be as simple as having your septic tank pumped to remove a buildup of sludge.

For further information contact the Douglas County Health Department at 217-253-4137. Septic permit applications, lists of soil evaluators working in Douglas County can also be obtained by viewing

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