Septic system care after the storm with UF/IFAS Extension Central District regional specialized water resources agent, Yilin Zhuang
Septic systems are most susceptible to issues after periods of heavy rainfall, including after a hurricane.
There are several issues that may arise for septic systems when hurricanes come. Hurricanes bring excessive rain which can contribute to flooding and cause stress to your septic tank.
For septic systems that utilize a pump, a loss of power can impact the septic system depending on the duration of the power outage. If trees fall on your drainfield, this can also damage septic systems. The latter two scenarios are of least concern, the major concern regarding hurricanes and septic systems is flooding.
Look for signs that you may have a problem.
If you see standing water after a storm, this can be a concern and may mean the drainfield is impacted. Major flooding does not have to occur to cause a problem! When the soil is saturated, it hinders the septic system’s ability to handle contaminants. A septic system’s job is to kill bacteria and it cannot do that when it has been compromised. Keep in mind, the standing water in your yard could be contaminated so make sure you disinfect your hands or any areas that came in contact with the water.
Other signs you may have a problem:
- Standing water or a soggy yard.
- Foul smelling water or odor backing up into the house.
- If the rest of your yard has dried after a few days but your drainfield is still wet, that is a concern.
- Foul odor, your septic tank should not smell if it is doing its job.
If a problem is detected, take the pressure off your septic system.
To prevent further stress on an already compromised septic system, limit water use as much as you can until the yard has dried and the septic system has had time to recover. Ensure you do not pour excess water into your toilet or sink, which will just put more pressure on the septic system.
If your system is flooded, do not pump the septic tank. This can cause further issues and pumping after the drainfield and surrounding areas have dried will be more effective and healthier for the tank long term.
Don’t dig or compact the soil on your drainfield because it can further complicate the system.
Once water has receded, inspect your yard around the drainfield for erosion and replace sod or any landscaping that was compromised. This will help support the septic system.
Not much preparation is possible, but septic system maintenance can play a role.
When it comes to flooding, there is not much you can do before a hurricane to prepare.
Regular maintenance of your septic tank is important. If you have not pumped your tank in a while it will be more vulnerable to damage. But do not pump your tank right before the storm because it takes time for the natural bacteria in a tank to develop and operate at maximum efficiency and pumping it could put stress on the tank right before a major rain event. Just like you don’t trim trees right before a storm, you want do not want to pump your septic tank right before a storm. Consider pumping the tank in the early spring and before heavy summer rains start.
Also, avoid planting trees near your drainfield to avoid root intrusion.
Directing rain flow can help, but with major storms, we have minimal control of waterflow due to the amount of rainfall some storms can bring. Directing waterflow with gutter systems and utilizing rain barrels is a smart preventative measure to follow but will not always prevent flooding.
Keep safety in focus when assessing septic tank impacts.
Standing water in your yard could be contaminated so make sure you disinfect your hands or any areas that came in contact with the water. Remember, use ½ cup of bleach per one gallon of water to disinfect surface areas that may have been contaminated if your septic tank backed up into your home.
If your area is flooded and you are on a septic tank and use a private well, do not drink the well water without testing it because it may be contaminated. The health department or a state certified water lab can test the water for you.
Locate electrical or mechanical devices the system may have and avoid contact with them until they are dry. Also, in the event of a power outage, examine electrical connections before restoring power to make sure they are dry and safe to operate.
Hire a professional!
Do not work on your septic system yourself. Hire a professional! Tanks may contain toxic gases that can be dangerous.
UF/IFAS recommends hiring septic tank contractors certified through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
For more information on septic tank maintenance, visit the UF/IFAS septic tank system site.