Thank You, Pumpers, for a Job Well Done

Even throughout a pandemic, you risked your health to answer the call to pump and maintain aging, overtaxed septic systems.

For the past year and a little more, pumpers have done much to prove their worth as essential service providers. While millions of folks were sheltering in place at home, your technicians have pulled ontheir boots and jumped in the truck every day to help homeowners in need. They’ve done whatever is necessary to stay safe while traveling house-to house during the worst pandemic in more than 100 years.

And while wastewater professionals may have approached many months of COVID-19 with some trepidation — both because of health risks and an uncertain economy — they’ve come through this unprecedented period working harder than ever, it seems. Every pumper I’ve talked to in the past year has remained busy, and they tell me it’s because customers havepushed their septic systems to failure through overuse.

These reports from the field tell me a few things. And the trends I see should give pumpers a sense of security for the future. 

First, the pandemic has confirmed what we’ve known all along: that a great number of decentralized wastewater systems users have ignored smart maintenance and have done so at their own peril. Years of neglect of septic tanks and drainfields set many homeowners and owners of commercial properties up for failed systems and major expenses for repairs or replacements.

And the timing couldn’t have been worse. Septic system deficiencies often don’t make themselves known until there is overloading, and the pandemic drove system flows over the brink in many cases. Think about it. When houses are empty all day long as parents go off to jobs and kids go off to school, aging systems and those seldom serviced have a brief chance to rest and recuperate. No more. Daily flushes double, tanks with little head room fill to the brim, and maintenance issues like broken baffles, corroded concrete and a lack of outlet filters rear their ugly heads.


I also realize now that the work world has been forever changed by the pandemic. A lot of employers have seen the benefits of remote workers and invited — or required — their employees to set up shop permanentlyat home. This will make our message of maintenance even more critical. Will we have to change our standard answer to the ever-present question, “How often should I pump my tank?” It remains to be seen, but perhaps you will look at each customer’s situation moving forward and recommend more frequent service based on the number of people at home all day and the age of the system.

Speaking of the age of septic systems, I believe the percentage of systems well beyond their expected useful service life is very large. Think about the many 1970s and ’80s subdivisions in your service territory. Now ask yourself the question: How many of these homes are still using their original septic system? I can guess what the answer is: most of them. Heck, I’ve heard stories of homeowners who haven’t cracked open their tanks for 30 years under the misguided impression that pumping is unnecessary. If they haven’t pumped them, they haven’t replaced them, either.

Recently I’ve seen social media posts from pumpers with photos of themselves standing on top of rock-solid tanks packed with sludge right up to the hard scum layer, leaving no room for inflowing wastewater and settling to occur. My fear is this is not such an unusual scene. The clock is ticking on millions of systems and we need to get out there with the message that periodic pumping is the only real way to extend the life of this antique infrastructure.


Where does this situation leave pumpers as they gear up for the busy season? Fortunately, in a better position than many small business owners in their hometowns. You have to feel bad for the restaurants, the tourist industry, and of your local neighbors whose businesses were shut down or hampered greatly by COVID-19. Many people suffered as friends and family were sickened by the virus, while others faced financial devastation during the long journey.

Those of us who have pulled through this disaster in a positive way have a lot to be thankful for. And a responsibility to keep helping in troubled times. If you are able, share your good fortune with your community. Support charitable or civic efforts to help folks as they recover from both their physical and financial injuries. Also, consider what you can do to reward your hardworking crew members who met every challenge placed in front of them in the past year. They deserve recognition for personal sacrifice and a job well done.

You also have a critical message to share with customers. It’s past time they take proper care of their septic systems or face the consequences. At every opportunity, take the time to reinforce the message that periodic pumping has to be part of their homeowner or commercial business equation. A visit from a pumper or maintainer now could save them a lot of money down the road. And maintenance can prevent environmental disasters. We all want to keep our backyards and our neighbors safe from exposure to sewage.

We’ll continue to preach this important message. And we’ll also continue to feature the hardworking professionals that serve the wastewater industry, both in good times and bad. As we pull out of this medical nightmare and hopefully return to some sort of normalcy, I want to thank you for your service to a grateful public and wish you health and happiness.


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