Keep Your Septic System Healthy
Protect your home investment and water quality. Inspect it and pump it out.
Your septic system is an important part of your home. It treats the water you use everyday. A failed septic system is very expensive to fix and can be a significant source of ground and surface water contamination. Periodic maintenance will prevent failure of a properly constructed system.
Septic tanks should be inspected every 2 to 3 years. When necessary, have your tank pumped out by a reputable septic tank service contractor, who is required to have a state permit to handle and dispose of the materials.
Find one in the Michigan Septage Haulers Directory. A database of waste businesses, vehicles and land application sites that are currently licensed by the state’s Septage Waste Program.
To keep your septic system functioning properly, avoid flooding the drain field with excess water. Conserve water inside your home and spread out water-intensive activities like showers, dishwashing and laundry. Using water efficiently also saves energy and money.
Avoid harsh chemicals.
Drain cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners and “miracle system cleaners” will kill the bacteria that are necessary to break down sludge in your septic system. Check product labels to see if they are safe for use in septic systems. Check out River Friendly Home Care (below) for alternatives to toxic cleaners.
Use a trash can.
Septic systems are designed for disposal of toilet wastes, tissue, soaps and water used from bathing, laundry and dishwashing. Disposing of improper solids in your septic can cause clogging and failure since the system can’t break down the material. Dispose of solids such as cigarette butts, diapers, coffee grounds, tampons, condoms and grease in your household trash.
Avoid field compaction.
Be sure you know the location of your septic tank and drain field. Never park, drive or build on your tank or drain field. Soil compaction and paving breaks pipes and prevents oxygen from getting into the soil (bacteria need oxygen to break down and treat sewage).
Check for signs of failure.
Look for areas in your lawn that remain moist during dry times. Check for excessive grass or plant growth. If you live near a creek, river or lake, check for excessive plant and algae growth along the shoreline. If you see signs of failure, schedule an inspection and necessary repairs immediately.
- “Would You Know If Your Septic System Needed Surgery?” brochure.
- “Do Your Part – Be SepticSmart” brochure.
- EPA’s SepticSmart program.
- Go to your county’s website to locate septics information from your county’s Public Health Department or Environmental Health Division.
How does my septic system work?
Check out this Septics 101 fact sheet to find out.
Why is it so important to maintain my septic tank?
Find out how e.coli impacts our water here
Scoop Pet Waste
Be an H2O Hero and your dog’s best friend. Keep pet waste out of our water.
There are over 50,000 dogs in Washtenaw County; their waste is not suitable for compost or fertilizer. It can carry diseases and bacteria, which are unsafe for humans. When it rains, bacteria from pet waste washes directly into stormdrains and drainage ditches and eventually into our waterways . . . untreated.
Pet waste contains several types of pollutants that contribute to water quality problems: nutrients, pathogens and a naturally toxic material, ammonia. When pet waste ends up in a stream river, it decomposes, using up oxygen and releasing its pollutant load. During summer months when the water is warm, the combination of low oxygen levels and ammonia can kill fish and other aquatic organisms. The nutrients cause excessive growth of aquatic weeds and algae, like the algae blooms you see at Gallup Pond or Ford Lake, making water murky green, smelly and unappealing to swimmers, boaters and fishers.
What can you do?
Be an example. Make your dog proud.
Scoop it, bag it and pitch it in the trash every time!
Be Prepared. Carry disposable bags.
Advice from local dog owners:
- Carry extra bags to share with your friends.
- Buy bag “caddies” and attach them to all of your leashes.
- Keep bags in your coat pockets . . . the car . . . the garage . . . everywhere that might add convenience.
- Take a mini flashlight to help with nighttime pick-ups.
Spread the word.
Educate others about how stormwater can wash untreated pet waste right into our waterways. Think of friendly ways to start a conversation to tell others how they might change their behavior to help protect our rivers and streams. “Excuse me. Did you drop something?” “Oh, here, I have an extra baggie for you and your dog.” “Did you know…?”
What about kitty litter?
Kitty litter dumped outside can be washed into streams. When cleaning out the litter box, a 2-step approach is best. Cat waste may be scooped out and flushed down the toilet. The used kitty litter should be bagged and pitched in the trash.
It’s the law.
Most communities have local ordinances about pet waste pick up. Avoid fines. Report violators.
Pet medications and sharps are pet waste too!
Pet waste can also be generated from excess or unused medications. In fact, increasing amounts of prescription drugs and personal care products are being detected in rivers, waterways, and groundwater. Wastewater treatment facilities are not equipped to “filter out” these chemicals, so drugs like antidepressants, cholesterol reducers and antibiotics are being detected in drinking water supplies. The risk to humans and animals of long-term exposure to these contaminants in drinking water is unknown. So, please don’t flush ’em.
Handle, store, dispose of medications properly.
The Pharmaceutical Take-Back Program allows Washtenaw County residents to take back their old unwanted medications to a pharmacy to be properly disposed – for FREE. Check www.dontflushdrugs.com to find a list of participating pharmacies and a complete list of what can be taken back.
Otherwise, wrap containers in duct tape and several layers of plastic bags before putting them in your trash.
“Sharps” are the syringes or needles used to administer pet medication. Each day 5,000 sharps are used to treat Washtenaw County pets. Sharps waste is classified as biohazardous waste and must be carefully handled.
Improperly discarded sharps, needles and syringes, can injure family members, waste and recycling workers, or end up in places where they are a danger to the public, such as beaches. Washtenaw County’s Department of Environmental Health encourages the purchase of a sharps container whenever sharps are purchased. When filled, these puncture resistant containers can be sealed shut and taken to a participating pharmacy, clinic or Home Toxics Collection Center.
Go to www.dontflushdrugs.com for a list of sharps drop off locations.
Wash pets indoors . . .
in a bathtub or sink using less toxic shampoos, or consider having your pet professionally groomed. Even when biodegradable, pet shampoos can be toxic to humans.
Excess pet supplies.
Donate your unneeded items to a local animal shelter or pet care provider. Most have a list of needed items and guidelines on their websites. CLICK HERE to see details on supplies the Humane Society of Huron Valley accepts.
Outreach Program Partners
Our thanks the communities who funded this program and the pet supply and service providers who are helping us to reach out to area pet owners.
Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner, City of Ann Arbor, Village of Dexter, City of Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, Pittsfield Township
Animal Kingdom Veterinary Hospital, Ann Arbor Animal Hospital, Arbor Dog Daycare, Arbor Hills Pet Boarding, Arboroads, Blue Pearl of Michigan, Brookedale Grooming & Boarding, Brookeside Veterinary Hospital, Camp Bow Wow, Country Cat Clinic, Creature Comforts Bed and Bath, Green Pawz, Humane Society of Huron Valley, Huron Pet Supply, Manchester Veterinary Clinic, Quality Grooming, Pet Supplies Plus – Ann Arbor, PetSmart, Saline Veterinary Service, PC, Washtenaw Veterinary Hospital, University Aquarium, Wags to Whiskers Pet Supplies, West Arbor Animal Hospital, PC, Westgate Animal Clinic, Ypsilanti Animal Clinic, PC
Pet stations for community parks: Chandler, AZ enlists local Eagle Scouts to construct low-cost refillable pet stations in community parks. See entire article.
Julie Winters of Portland Oregon’s River Network Details of a Pet Waste Station Community Program, by Julie Winters of Portland Oregon’s River Network
The EPA’s Nonpoint Pollution Source Outreach Toolbox
Dispose of Toxics Properly
Careful use and disposal of home toxics is easy, keeps your home safe, and helps protect the Huron River!
Save time and money by planning your projects in advance and purchasing only the products you need to get the job done. You will reduce unwanted home toxics, helping to keep your home safe while protecting the environment.
Learn to identify home toxics
Check labels carefully, including directions for use and words of caution.
|Home & Hobby
asphalt or roofing tar
paint thinners and solvents
varnishes and refinishers
|Yard & Garden
herbicides (weed killer)
Less is more.
The next time you are tempted to “save money” by purchasing the jumbo-sized container, remember that you will have the long term “cost” of proper home toxics storage and disposal. Follow the manufacturers’ directions for use and do not over-apply home toxics of any kind. You can reduce the likelihood of harm to yourself and environmental contamination by carefully following the guidelines and minimizing the frequency and amount of any applications.
Make a clean sweep.
Use a broom, not a hose, to clean up spills.
Maintain your car.
Repair any automotive fluid leaks right away. Use a drip pan to catch leaks if repairs are delayed. Collect and dispose of fluids from routine maintenance properly (motor oil, antifreeze, brake and transmission fluid). Contact your County Health Department or a local service center if you need assistance.
Store home toxics properly.
Select cool, dry storage areas. Always keep products in the original container. Store solvents outside your home if possible, in a secure storage area. Protect products from freezing when necessary. Check containers periodically for leaks. Make certain animals and children cannot access home toxics.
Dispose of home toxics properly.
Remember don’t dump it if you wouldn’t drink it.
- Contact your County Health Department for guidelines and household hazardous waste disposal sites.
- Do not pour toxics down household drains.
- Do not pour anything down a storm drain or into a ditch.
- Do not place home toxics in the trash.
Improper disposal of home toxics contaminates ground and surface water, and jeopardizes drinking water supplies.
Don't Flush Drugs
Do not flush prescription or over-the-counter medications down the toilet or sink.
Wastewater treatment facilities are not equipped to “filter out” drugs and personal care items.
Protect your drinking water by keeping these products out of our rivers, waterways, and groundwater.
Dispose of them through a “take back” program.
See www.dontflushdrugs.com for details on Washtenaw County’s program and more.
OR wrap containers in duct tape and several layers of plastic bags before putting them in your trash.
Other “take back” programs include:
River-Friendly Home Care
Reduce Toxics in Your Home
Your grandparents were right! Vinegar, baking soda and elbow grease will clean most of the surfaces in your home. There are safer alternatives to a variety of home toxics.
Spray undiluted vinegar on surface. Wait 1/2 hour. Scrub with hot water.
Put 1/4 cup of baking soda into your drain, followed by 1 cup of vinegar. Repeat if necessary.
Mop floors with a 50/50 mix of vinegar and hot water. Let stand for 1/2 hour. Wipe clean with a water dampened cloth or mop.
Sprinkle baking soda on surface and scour with damp cloth. Rinse. Or… Sprinkle salt on surface and scour with cloth dipped in lemon juice. Wipe clean.
Instead of chlorine bleach, use Borax with your regular laundry detergent.
Insecticide for ants and roaches
Place a 50/50 mix of Borax and powdered sugar in a shallow dish. Place out of reach of animals and children.
Spray plants with a mixture of one teaspoon of liquid dish soap per liter of water. Rinse when insects are dead. Repeat every two weeks. If the plant sprayed is a vegetable plant, make sure to wash vegetables before eating them. Michigan State University Extension has lots of information on alternative pest management or contact your County MSU Extension Agent.
Traditional ethylene glycol antifreeze is highly toxic. It is especially hazardous for children and animals, who are attracted to its sweet taste. Antifreeze made of propylene glycol is safer for children and animals (it has no sweet taste), and safer for the environment (it is less toxic). Plus, it is just as effective as traditional ethylene glycol antifreeze. Propylene glycol antifreeze is readily available at most auto stores and repair shops. If you can’t find it in your area, call Sierra at 1-800-289-7234. Keep out of reach of animals and children.
Go to the RiverSafe Homes Survey, see more tips for your household and order the Washtenaw County Water Resources Riversafe Homes brochure and decal.
Resources for River Friendly Home Care
- Homemade Cleaners from the Michigan State University Extension
- “Clean & Green” by Annie Berthold-Bond, available on Amazon.com
- Sustainable Communities Network (SCN)
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Design for the Environment (DfE) Labeling Program