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Septic Systems 

Clinton County is facing a threat to public health. Water sampling conducted in the Looking Glass River watershed and the Upper Maple River watershed consistently show E. coli bacteria levels that are too high to safely enjoy common recreational activities such as fishing, boating, and swimming. Further analysis of water samples traced E. coli sources back to human sewage, which is a sign of failing home septic systems discharging contaminated water into local surface waters. Read more about the Upper Maple River E. coli Monitoring Project here.

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What is a septic system?

All water exits the household from one main drain pipe. If your house is not connected to a municipal wastewater system, then your household waste should flow into an onsite wastewater treatment system, also called a septic system. The main drain pipe usually flows into a septic tank. The septic tank is a buried water-tight container that holds wastewater, allowing solids to settle to the bottom (sludge) while the oil and grease float to the top (scum). The middle layer of liquid wastewater is the only material intended to leave the tank and travel to the drainfield. The drainfield - a series of buried perforated pipes - allows wastewater to percolate into the soil, naturally removing harmful bacteria and viruses.


There are several signs of septic system failure:

  • Wastewater backing up into household drains, toilets, and/or sinks.

  • Puddles or saturation around the septic tank and drainfield.

  • A putrid stench around the septic tank and drainfield.

  • Dead spots or bright green, spongy grass appearing on the drainfield, even during dry weather.

Photo: Backflow into the septic tank is a sign of a sewage absorption system failure. The drainfield is not effectively treating wastewater when the soil is saturated. The excess untreated water that isn't flowing back into the tank is flowing through the ground and draining into surface water - in this case, into a recreational lake.

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