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Chemicals flushed down the drain can destroy the bacteria that break down solids in the septic tank, and pollute groundwater. More...

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- by M. Fraga and E.A. Zimmerman

Many people depend on a septic system to handle their household wastewater.  The greatest threat to water quality in Woodstock is not industrial or commercial pollutants, but “non-point” pollutant sources, such as failing septic systems and contaminated storm water runoff.

Have your septic system pumped and inspected regularly by a licensed inspector/ contractor (every 3 to 5 years based on tank size and use is a commonly recommended interval.)  A regular cleaning is about $130 to $200 but will save money in the long run by significantly increasing the life of your system.

Signs of trouble

  • Slow draining wastewater.
  • Sewage backing up into the home, or puddles on the surface of the ground.  A “spongy” feeling in some areas of the leaching field, near distribution box, or near the septic tank.
  • Sewage smell outside the house.  If the smell is more noticeable after a lot of water has been put into the system, this may indicate that the leaching field is failing.
  • Lush growth of grass.

If failure does occur, it is best to contact the town/city sanitarian or health officer for instructions, since pumping and cleaning alone may not solve the problem. 


  • Repair leaky faucets and toilets.  One leaky faucet can waste 700 gallons of water a year.
  • Use low-flow fixtures.
  • Educate your family on proper use of the system.
  • Spread out your laundry over several days to give the septic system more time to digest the water.  Run dishwashers and clothes washers only when full, and use the cycle with the lowest number of rinses.
  • Use baking soda to clean toilets, and boiling water and/or a mechanical drain snake to clear clogged drains.
  • Use non-phosphate laundry detergents.
  • Allow only shallow rooted, non-water greedy plants like grass to grow on top of the tank and leaching field.
  • Ensure that there is a vegetated buffer (grass, trees, and shrubs) between your leaching field and a lake or stream.  They will absorb excess nutrients, help retain water, and prevent erosion.
  • Keep roof drains, surface water from driveways, basement sump pump drains, and other drainage systems away from the leaching field.
  • Check with the local regulatory agency before installing a water softener that discharges to the septic system.
  • If your system has a flow diversion valve, learn its location, and turn it once a year.  This can add years of life to your system.


  • Don’t flush even small amounts of paint, solvent, thinners, disinfectants, pesticides, or oils down the drain or toilet.  These chemicals can destroy the bacteria that break down solids in the septic tank, and pollute groundwater.
  • Don’t use large amounts of laundry soap, detergents, bleaches, toilet bowl cleaners and caustic drain cleaners.  Recommended quantities should not adversely affect the system.
  • Don’t use chemical compounds, enzymes or septic tank “cleaners.”  These can break down sludge, which can then flow into your leaching field, decreasing the life of the field.
  • Don’t discharge salt brine solution from water softeners.  CT Dept. of Health regulations prohibit this.  Salt brine can build up in the groundwater and pollute wells and springs supplying drinking water.
  • Don’t allow excess amounts of fat or grease to enter the system.  It can congeal and cause obstructions.
  • Don’t use garbage disposals.
  • Don’t flush paper towels, tampons or sanitary napkins, condoms, plastic, or cat litter.
  • Don’t put a lot of water into the system all at once.  Use water sensibly, and teach children to do the same.
  • Don’t use matches or an open flame to inspect a septic tank.  Gases produced by decomposing sewage can explode and cause serious injury.
  • Don’t allow trucks or heavy equipment to drive or park over the tank or leaching field.  Heavy equipment can crush the pipes and compact the soil so it can no longer filter and absorb sewage nutrients.
  • Don’t plant water-hungry trees or shrubs on or near the leaching field.  Trees such as willows, poplar and sumac can clog up your tile bed and cause backup and surface seepage.




Prepared by the Woodstock Conservation Commission on 4/20/04

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