Water Qualityin Georgia
Septic Tank Designand Construction
The University of Georgia College of Family & Consumer Sciences and College of Agricultural& Environmental Sciences • Cooperative Extension Service
Cecil Hammond and Tony Tyson, Extension Engineers
The first known installation of aseptic tank in the United States was in1876, although Louis Mouras of Ve-soul, France, was given a patent in1881 and credited with the invention.Baffles, which regulate the flow, wereadded in 1905 to make the septic tank more efficient. The first baffles weremade of oak boards.At the turn of the century, there weresome very large community septic tanks.In 1903, four community tanks wereconstructed in Saratoga, New York, witha total capacity of one million gallons.By 1920, septic tanks began to be acommon feature. After World War II,septic tanks became important to hous-ing developments in unsewered areas.
Septic Systemsand Groundwater
A few rules of thumb tell us whenseptic systems are most likely to function properly and minimize groundwater contamination:Good soil facilitates treatment anddisposal of septic system wastewater.Soil profiles made of sand, silt andclay work best. If there is too muchclay in the soil, the waste may perco-late poorly. If the soil contains toomuch sand and large particles, waste-water may pass through to thegroundwater without being treated bysoil microbes.
Soil treatment occurs best whenabove the water table and the soil isrelatively dry with oxygen present.
Water at greater depths allows waste-water to remain in the unsaturated soil,where it can be treated most effectively before reaching groundwater.
Septic systems need space.
Only part of the microorganisms and chemi-cals are removed from wastewater as itmoves downward. Even properly oper-ating systems can discharge some phosphates, nitrates and bacteria or viruses into the groundwater. To re-duce loading of groundwater with ef-fluent, install systems on lots withadequate space.
Proper design and use is impor-tant.
Septic systems are designed totreat and dispose of a specific volumeand type of wastewater in the condi-tions found at the site. The systemmust not be overloaded. Hazardouschemicals or large amounts of greaseshould not be disposed in septic sys-tems. Kitchen grease should be placedin the garbage, not the septic tank.Water conservation extends the life of the system.
Routine maintenance is critical.
Septic tanks must eventually be pumped. Sludge and scum accumulateand, if allowed to remain, will eventu-ally cause the tank to overflow andclog the drainfield.Good judgment in planning and designand diligent maintenance are the mostimportant aspects of an effective septicsystem management program.
Septic Tank Function
Sewage or untreated household wastewill quickly clog all but the most porousgravel formations. The septic tank con-ditions sewage to allow percolation of the liquid portion into the subsoil. Themost important function of septic tanksis to protect the absorption ability of thesubsoil. In doing this, the septic tank does the following three things.
Removes solids from liquid.
Assewage enters the tank, the rate of flowis reduced and heavy solids settle,forming sludge. Grease and other lightsolids rise to the surface, forming ascum. The sludge and scum are re-tained and break down while the clari-
Cross-section of a septic tank