The last thing most people think about until the toilet doesn't flush is their septic tank and septic field. Right now you can probably outline where the lines are by the brown grass in the yard. Erma Bombeck wasn't always right when she wrote her famous book "Grass is Always Greener over the Septic Tank."
What is right, says Gary Steinhardt, Purdue University Extension soil specialist, is that many rural people take septic systems for granted. Many don't have them pumped often enough, and others aren't careful about what goes into the septic tank. For example, if you're cleaning out paint brushes in a sink in your garage and the garage drain is tied directly to your septic tank, you're loading it with latex paint that can be devastating to the bacteria that keep septic systems working properly.
Steinhardt has undertaken several efforts to educate rural people on septic systems about how to take care of them. He was also responsible for incorporating information about homesite selection, including wastewater disposal, into the soil judging contest for high school students. Today, two of the four sites students evaluate in a competition contest are possible homesites.
One thing students have to do is determine how often the septic tank should be pumped, Steinhardt says. Students learn that if you have a garbage disposal, which even many rural homes have today, you need to pump the tank more often. Also, the more residents in the house using and contributing to what goes into the septic system, the more often it should be pumped. For example, if you have a garbage disposal and four people live in your house, the standard septic tank should be pumped every two years to maintain a healthy septic system. Unfortunately, many systems aren't pumped until they don't work properly, Steinhardt concludes.