A volunteer dug a hole for a soils team to practice in the yard of what had been an older farm home recently. The house had already been torn down due to disrepair by the new owners. From all appearances and the presence of old, large trees near by, it appeared the site had been in grass and serving as a yard for decades, if not longer.
The backhoe brought up remnants of an old clay tile near the bottom of the hole. Two things are possible. Either the tile was installed more than a century ago, before the now-defunct house was built. Or else the tile was actually the sewage discharge for the older home's bathroom, most likely added sometime after the home was built.
Which is the case really doesn't matter. In hearing the story, Gary Steinhardt, Purdue University soils Extension specialist, says he wouldn't be surprised to find many older rural homes with what he calls straight shot septic pipes. In effect, there is no septic system, and the outlet from the bathroom attaches to a tile line that runs off into a field. At some point, it most likely discharges into a creek or some form of a body of water.
"Farmers get blamed for nitrates and problems with E. coli bacteria every time there is an incident or someone discovers a problem," Steinhardt says. "My guess is that in at least some cases, the real culprit are septic systems that aren't working properly, or that aren't there at all."
Even if there is a septic system in older homes, and sometimes not-so-old homes, it may have been installed in ground that does not lend itself to good percolation of waste water into the soil. For example, many potential homesites are somewhat poorly drained, meaning they have a perched eater table at least part of the year. Others have what soil specialists and consultants doing investigations before new septic systems are installed call dense till. The soil is so dense that roots have trouble penetrating it. Water from a septic system has a lot of trouble trying to move down through it too.Then some soils are somewhat poorly drained, and have dense till. "It's really tough to get a septic system to work in those kinds of conditions," Steinhardt says. "We need to pay more attention to septic systems and the potential hazard they can become if they are not installed and managed properly."