System Management: The Key to Successful Septic Repair

Providing a plan for the homeowner to monitor the system should be a priority after a repair or remediation.
System Management: The Key to Successful Septic Repair
Every system should have a management plan provided for the property owner that explains their system and the critical maintenance activities for them to perform, and those they will need a service provider to do.

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When a septic system is being repaired or remediated, it is wise for the septic professional to thoroughly understand why the last system broke, fix the situation and stress to the property owner the management needed to keep the system working properly. The local permitting authority will make the determination of whether or not a construction permit and/or operating permit is needed for system repair or remediation. It is recommended that the system owner provide a service contract or maintenance agreement to the local permitting authority, and that the permitting authority issue an operating permit to ensure the system is performing effectively.

All systems need to be managed to operate properly. It is critical that all system owners understand that all properly operating systems will have a management aspect in order to serve as a long-term solution. These activities are straightforward but necessary and time sensitive for systems to operate properly.

Every system should have a management plan provided for the property owner that explains their system and the critical maintenance activities for them to perform, and those they will need a service provider to do. There are existing generic informational guides available, your company may have developed one or you could use the free tool to create one.

H2OandM is an online tool to create customized homeowner operation and maintenance manuals for onsite septic systems ranging from a single family home to a large cluster system. The tool will work for newly designed/installed systems or those that have been in the ground a long time. A septic system professional creates an account where all their projects are stored. Using the web interface, they enter specific site and system information and the tool creates an electronic or hard copy O&M manual, which includes stock images and text along with the customized information entered by the professional.

This tool and the manuals will have many benefits to professionals in the septic system industry:

  • Value-added information given to the customer
  • Professional/third-party recommendations on O&M activities and home management tips
  • Ability to update the O&M manuals as the system or user changes
  • Capability to create templates for commonly designed, installed or serviced systems

When a system is remediated, it is recommended that the system be monitored for a period of at least one year to determine if the malfunction is resolved. Monitoring should include documenting the time of the malfunction and the remedial action done. The primary observations or measurements to make and record include:

  1. Whether the symptom of malfunction (surfacing or backing up) stops
  2. Depth of effluent ponding in the observation standpipes in each trench, seepage bed, at-grade and mound
  3. Wastewater flow

Some key aspects to include in the management plan for repair/remediated systems are discussed below.

  1. Problems due to hydraulic overuse: monitoring of flows is critical. Therefore monitoring of a water meter, running time clock or event counter is essential.
  2. Problems due to organic overload: sampling of the effluent will let you know if the system use has reduced the load or if the newly installed pretreatment system is performing.
  3. Problems due to insufficient size: if time dosing to limit flow is part of the solution, monitoring of the usage is critical in addition to monitoring of ponding.
  4. If the solution was to rest a section of the soil treatment area, the homeowner or service provider must alternate between the zones of the systems at the appropriate interval.  

About the Author
Sara Heger, Ph.D., is an engineer, researcher and instructor in the Onsite Sewage Treatment Program in the Water Resources Center at the University of Minnesota. She presents at many local and national training events regarding the design, installation and management of septic systems and related research. Heger is education chair of the Minnesota Onsite Wastewater Association (MOWA) and the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association (NOWRA), and serves on the NSF International Committee on Wastewater Treatment Systems. Send her questions about septic system maintenance and operation by email to                         


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