Environmental Impact of Septic and Sewer Systems

Environmental Impact of Septic and Sewer Systems

There may not be an option to choose whether your house drainage system leads out to a sewer or septic system, but it is a good idea to at least understand some of the differences between them. Depending on the system, there are various advantages and disadvantages for how they each affect the environment.

Both sewer and septic systems are designed to filter blackwater (used toilet water) and greywater (sink, shower, laundry, etc. water). Both types of filtration systems utilize microorganisms to naturally remove bad bacteria, viruses, and other pathogenic materials before sending the cleaners water back into the environment. 

An on-site septic system is typically a smaller operation to handle one or a few homes wastewater. It’s smaller size can result in disgusting sewage backup complications if the homeowners do not properly maintain their system. If kept in good shape, however, septic systems can be very effective and even handle an abundance of water from significant rainfall.  In the University of Minnesota Extension (UMNE) “Septic System Owner’s Guide,” they make this statement: “The only way to guarantee effective treatment is to have a trained professional ensure adequate unsaturated and suitable soil exists below the soil treatment area to allow for complete wastewater treatment.”

One disadvantage homeowners face with a personal septic system is the responsibility to contract and pay for maintenance and repairs themselves. Also, if the septic system does back up, it is their property that can be damaged.

Community-based sewer systems transport the wastewater of several homes within a community to a centralized location to filter the water and then return it to the environment. This way there is no personal risk of potentially dangerous wastewater contents backing up and infecting people’s home and land. Also, whatever issues may arise with this type of system will be the responsibility of the local government to handle and pay for. 

Even though a well-crafted and maintained septic system can be a great option for many people and the surrounding environment, when it is not properly up-kept the consequences can be quite dire. It has been established that a backup of these septic systems can spread dangerous disease-causing pathogens such as hepatitis and dysentery, among others. This unpurified water can contaminate groundwater as well as local lakes and rivers which can have an exponential negative effect on the environment. Misquotes and flies can also transport infected water to other places which further spreads the possibility of disease. 

Another concern for improperly treated sewage is increased nitrates in the local water supply that can harm infants, pregnant women, and those immune-compromised. High nitrate water also establishes unruly plant overgrowth and can lead to mass death in water-based ecosystems.

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