My family lived on a Ranch full time from 1993 until 2015. We were a 5th generation family farm.
I am writing this blog to share my experiences living there. It is best to read the blog chronologically by going through the archives, starting with the introduction in January of 2010.
The blog starts with the arrival of my great-grandparents to the farm in 1947 and will follow the families to the present.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Septic Tank Blues

Septic Thanks

All us folks with septic tanks
give to you, our heart felt thanks.

For putting nothing in the pot
that isn't guaranteed to rot.

kleenex is bad...matchsticks too
cigarette butts are taboo!

No hair combings, use the basket
there's a darn good reason why we ask it.....


One of the common features of rural living is a septic tank. This is a on site system that treats the household waste. "It has two main sub-systems; a septic tank where sewage is decomposed by bacterial action and where solids settle, and a septic field or sand mound where the relatively clean water from the tank flows through a series of pipes and into surrounding soil where it is further purified. "Septic Tank Blues by Charles Skopic.  A septic system is a concrete reminder that nothing is ever "out of sight out of mind." Just like life itself when you think what is past resurfaces, what goes into the septic system can, most horrifyingly, reappear.

We had this experience at a recent gathering at our home where well over a 100 people assembled to celebrate together. Many of our guests stayed the entire weekend, thankfully some of them had their own toilets onboard their campers, but of course there were a lot of people testing the strength of our septic system. We had hired a porta potty for the occasion which I am thankful for or the situation could of been worse.

A septic system does give warnings that it is not well. The more subtle indicators are a sewage smell or a greener patch of grass on the septic field. Not so obvious are high levels of nitrates in the water. Nitrogen and Phosphorus can have a long-term negative impact on water quality that is hard to correct. This is a concern for Shuswap Lake where so many people are on septic tanks, some of which may not be working properly. The importance of treating sewer cannot be more obvious which is why it is so hard to imagine that Victoria is still pumping untreated sewage into it's water. The city does not plan to treat it's sewer until 2018. It brings to mind the toilets at the Chateau de Chillon in Switzerland, a castle constructed in large part in the 12th century.  The Castle sits on the shores of Lac Leman and the toilets go directly into the lake below.

Chateau Chillon.

The most obvious sign of trouble with the septic system is when it backs up into the home, usually the basement. This is what happened to us on the morning after our big party. One of our friends appeared looking extremely worried, searching for my husband, Brent. When a short search did not reveal him our friend most regretfully announced to me that the sewer had backed up through the shower. I wasted no time in locating Brent, deciding that sewer was definitely not my speciality. All the toilets, shower, laundry and dishwasher services had to be shut down in the house.  A major inconvenience when there is a houseful however we did have the porta potty until the end of the weekend which was a big help.

One of the most common causes of the septic system malfunction is overload, and I suspect that is what happened to us. The night of the party a number of people decided to have a mass shower which most likely dealt the death blow to an already struggling system. There are also many substances that should not go into the septic system that people who live on city sewer are not aware of such as non-biodegradable items.

Brent received years of training in septic systems through my father, Eddy. Most of the work was instillation of they system but sometimes they would be called for repair. There were even occasions when Brent actually would have to crawl into the septic tank.

Circa 1990s. Brent in a septic tank

I don't think you could ask for a more devoted son- in -law. Brent would without question jump into tanks when working with Eddy. At one time this almost resulted in the untimely death of Brent when he was in a gasoline tank. Thankfully Eddy noticed that Brent was going unconscious and in an adrenaline fueled feat of strength, pulled him to safety.

The other important thing to remember about your septic system is where the clean out access is. Homeowners are not always aware of this and it can result and many hours of fruitless digging before the lid of the tank is found.

Circa early 1990s. Eddy and Brent are working on a septic system but were unable to find the clean out. It was fortunate that Eddy had the help of the machine to do the digging.

Eddy on his favourite machine, the backhoe, until he bought his Cat Excavator.

The clean out to this system was eventually located, after unearthing almost the entire yard. Eddy and Brent also discovered that the lid was buried under three feet of earth. It is fortunate that they remembered this lesson as when our system was put in they were careful to make note of where the clean out was and to not bury it very deeply. In our current reduced circumstances we have no machines but our clean out is so close to the surface that it took our 16 year old daughter less than 15 minutes to dig it out.

Brent doing the final clean up before the lid is opened.

Reliable is a family owned and operated business that has been providing services in the Shuswap since 1975. This is their new truck which is much larger than the original unit that we were most familiar with, a truck that went by the name of the Honey Pot. This truck does not appear to have a name but is large and powerful.

Brent and the Reliable Septic operator cleaning out the tank.

There is quite an odor that fills the air when a tank is being cleaned out. My mother always maintained that if your septic system will "pack it in", it will always be when the house is full of people. Her most memorable occasion was when she had the neighborhood ladies over for a tea party and the septic system was being pumped out. I am quite relieved that our house is empty today for this septic treatment and will try to remember to add to my party preparation list "Have Septic Tank Pumped Out".