Preparing your Septic System for a Hurricane
Published on August 3, 2020
The Virginia Health Department has a great article on preventative action. The key points are outlined below. For a complete read, visit their article.
The 2020 Hurricane Season is in full swing. Communities up and down the Atlantic Coast are bracing for what experts are calling “another record-breaking” storm season. We’ve put together this article for homeowners who have a septic system or well to be prepared for the before, during, and after of a major storm.
Preventative Action: Establish an Expectation
When facing a major storm or hurricane, your first priorities are to assure the safety of your family. Included in those priorities are concerns about safe drinking water and proper sewage disposal. Below are some expectations for private wells and onsite sewage systems when Virginia faces major storms or flooding.
Power Outages If your home is served by a well, the well pump will not work when the power goes out. Toilets can be flushed by pouring a bucketful of water either into the tank and using the handle, or by pouring a bucketful into the bowl.
Onsite sewage systems may also fail to operate properly during a power outage. Pumps won’t work without power, but most onsite sewage systems with a pump should have 100-200 gallons storage capacity above the high level alarm. Exceeding this storage capacity could cause the pump chamber to overflow, spilling raw sewage on the ground. Use water sparingly.
Many alternative systems also have electrical components such as aerators, flow control switches and other equipment. Many alternative systems also include a pump and therefore should have a limited amount of storage capacity as noted above. Alternative system owners should call their licensed Alternative Onsite Sewage System Operator as soon as possible once the power returns if some components do not seem to be functioning properly.
People who rely on private wells for their water should consider their well contaminated if it was submerged or they believe it is possible the well became submerged during the hurricane.
If the well was flooded and underwater, do not turn on the pump until you are sure the electrical system is completely dried out. Consider a well that has been submerged contaminated and disinfect the well and the water system using this procedure once you are sure the electrical system is safe.
The water should not be consumed until bacteriological testing indicates the well is not contaminated. Two satisfactory bacteriological tests performed on samples taken at least 24 hours apart will indicate your water supply has been properly disinfected. Labs certified to test drinking water are available HERE.
Onsite Sewage Systems
For any type of onsite sewage system, conventional or alternative, a hurricane or flood could submerge the system, causing a backup of sewage into the house. Look for sewage backups in the plumbing fixtures at the lowest elevations in your house.
Flooding can wash soil away from the septic tank, drainfield lines or other components, causing damage to the components or introducing raw or partially treated sewage into the yard. Flooding may also cause the onsite sewage system to operate sluggishly because the soil in the dispersal area is saturated.
If your septic tank/drainfield system is damaged by the storm or if the soil is saturated, minimize water use within the house to prevent raw sewage from discharging to the ground surface. Minimize contact with sewage contaminated waters. Use gloves and protective gear and wash any exposed skin with soap and water as soon as possible. Disinfect any exposed human contact surfaces with diluted bleach water.
During and After: Conserve Water
Regardless of whether on septic, well, sewer, or city water – conserve the water you have! There is no telling what damage has been done to a waterlogged, windswept, power-outage, hydraulically-stressed community system. The best precaution is to acknowledge the major event and to verify that all critical ifrastructure is in place and operating under a nominal status before returning usage to pre-storm levels.
Post-Storm: Inspection and Patience
Once the storm has passed, perform a survey of your property and its facilities to make sure everything is as it should be.
- Inspect the drainfield area – is there standing water while water elsewhere has drained away? This is a check you should perform every couple of days after a major storm as it may take that long for groundwater to drain to normal subsurface levels.
- Trees which fall as the result of water and rain can sometimes pull up drainfield lines, drip tubing, distribution boxes, and other subsurface components. Tree roots can spread, by rule, to the full extent of its canopy. Make sure any tree roots which have popped up out of the ground have not taken your septic system with them.
- Trees which fall can also create a concussive effect which can actually implode your underground septic tank. You will know immediate if the tank has collapsed entirely, but if you have access to the lid, it may be a good idea to make sure that the level of the water in the tank is about a foot below the top of the tank. Any higher and you will have a backup. Any lower and you have a leaky or cracked tank.
- Take a quick look at any control panel: are there any lights or audible alarms? If there are, please contact us so we can send a licensed professional to address any issue. The alarm is there for a reason – to make sure a small issue doesn’t become a big one!
- Inside facilities. Are they draining and flushing without the pre-backup “gurgle”? If you get a gurgle, don’t fret right away. Large rain events can inundate groundwater and septic systems, reducing the ability for the drainfield to discharge the effluent into the ground. It is best to monitor this as a trend-based symptom. Once things begin to dry out you can more accurately address that “gurgle”.
Please contact us at 804-232-6774 if you have any problems with you onsite or conventional septic system.