If it has recently rained a lot or your area has been victim to a flood AND your home uses a septic system or well, officials advise that you should have your septic system and well checked for safety.
Floodwaters can cause septic tanks to fill and overflow, resulting in possible health risks and environmental problems. Private water wells can become contaminated by bacteria and pollutants carried in flood waters.
If you live in an area that was flooded, do not drink private well water until it is tested. Also, if possible, do not use the septic system while your yard is saturated, as wastewater will not be treated and will become a source of pollution.
Some of the warning signs that your septic system may be failing include the following:
- The ground around the septic tank or over the leaching bed may be soggy or spongy to walk on.
- Toilets, showers and sinks may back up or may take longer than usual to drain.
- Occasional sewage odours may become noticeable, particularly after a rainfall.
- Gray or black liquids may be surfacing in your yard or backing up through fixtures into the house.
- E. coli or fecal coliform indicator bacteria may be found in nearby well water or in a surface ditch close to the leaching bed.
The water level in the septic tank is higher than the outlet pipe (this indicates that the water is ponding in the distribution lines) — inspection should be conducted by a qualified practitioner.
Wastewater is ponding in the distribution lines — inspection should be conducted by a qualified practitioner or an engineer.
If a homeowner suspects there is damage, they should have their septic tank professionally inspected and serviced. Contact the local health department for a list of septic system contractors that work in that area. Signs of damage include settling or an inability to accept water.
Most septic tanks are not damaged by flooding since they are below ground and completely covered. However, septic tanks and pump chambers can fill with silt and debris, and must be cleaned by professionals.
FEMA recommends that if a well has been overtopped by flood waters; wait for the water to recede. Thoroughly disinfect the system and then sample and test the water to assure its safety. Well water should be tested at least once a year, especially if there is a noticeable change in taste, smell or appearance.
Water well servicing work should be performed by licensed well drillers or pump installers. Well water analysis should be performed by the local health department or by a state certified laboratory.
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