What you need to know about wells and septic systems

Many landowners rely on wells, either drilled or dug (see picture), to get their water. To ensure your safety, the water from wells should be tested regularly and if the color, taste or smell changes. Sample bottles for testing are available from community offices, Peterborough Public Health, and the Regional Public Health Laboratory. (Photo: Jackie Donaldson)

If you live in Peterborough, the water will flow from your faucets thanks to the Peterborough Utilities Group. If the toilet flushes or the tub drains, the City of Peterborough will take care of your sewage.

The situation is different for rural communities.

In the townships around the city, the owner is responsible for water and wastewater management. Most rural properties rely on a well for daily water consumption and a sewage treatment plant for sewage.

For the past few months I have written articles on water and wastewater treatment in an urban setting. This week I am dealing with these issues from a rural perspective.

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To find out more about wells and septic tanks, I got in touch with Lindsay Burtt, a construction officer in the Douro-Dummer community.

To begin my journey, I asked Burtt about Brunnen. He explained that there are two main types: the dug and the drilled well.

“Wells that are drilled are more common and deeper and easier to install,” says Burtt. “This is done with a drill on a truck. Excavated wells are created by digging until you encounter water, often a spring. Excavated wells are usually shallower and 6 to 10 meters deep. ”

Installing a well is not as simple as digging or drilling. You need to get permits and follow protocols to install a well. To make sure it’s done correctly, property owners should hire a licensed well plumber, says Burtt.

Drilled wells like the one shown here are dug with a drill on a truck.  If you plan to build a well on your property, make sure it is done by a licensed well installer.  (Photo: Jackie Donaldson)Drilled wells like the one shown here are dug with a drill on a truck. If you plan to build a well on your property, make sure it is done by a licensed well installer. (Photo: Jackie Donaldson)

Both dug and bored wells rely on groundwater as a source of water – water that naturally exists underground between cracks and gaps in the ground, sand and rock.

During times of drought, like the level 2 drought we experienced this summer, wells can run dry. In this case, Burtt explains, “Country homeowners may need to buy their drinking water. Or they have a secondary system like a cistern to provide water. ”

When setting up a cistern, the location is important. To prevent the cisterns from freezing, they are best placed in a basement or buried in the ground.

“There is no mandatory requirement for homeowners to test their well water,” says Burtt. “If you want your water to be tested, it’s your individual responsibility.”

Still, Burtt recommends testing well water at least once a year. For shallow wells where bacterial problems can arise, he recommends treating water with a UV filter or chemical chlorination.

At the other end of the budget is wastewater management and treatment.

“The main type of sewer system is called Class 4,” says Burtt. “It has a septic tank and a bed of leach. The septic tank has two compartments: the front chamber (which is where the sewage enters and solids settle) and the rear chamber where the sewage (the liquid sewage) is stored. “

“The rear chamber has an outlet through which the wastewater can flow into the leach bed (or drainage field). As soon as the wastewater reaches the leaching bed, it is treated by layers of sand and stone and eventually penetrates the soil. ”

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Bacteria play a key role in all parts of the sewage system. They settle the solids in the front chamber and treat the wastewater in the rear chamber and leach bed. Failure to have enough bacteria can cause the sewage system to fail, causing raw sewage to build up in the residence (yuck!).

To avoid problems, landowners should clean their leach bed filter once a year and have their septic tanks pumped out every three to five years depending on household usage.

Through the Douro-Dummer community’s septic review program launched in 2020, Burtt and his colleagues are helping rural property owners maintain their septic systems and prevent outages.

“The vast majority of property owners maintain their sewage treatment plants effectively,” Burtt notes. “Only a very small number of sewage treatment plants cause problems with the infrastructure or the environment.”

In order to dispose and treat their wastewater, the owners of rural properties rely on sewage treatment plants, like the one under the lawn here in the Douro-Dummer municipal office.  When installing a new sewer system, first check with your local community office for location, testing, and maintenance information, and see the Ontario Building Code for provincial requirements.  (Photo: Jenn McCallum)In order to dispose and treat their wastewater, the owners of rural properties rely on sewage treatment plants, like the one under the lawn here in the Douro-Dummer municipal office. When installing a new sewer system, first check with your local community office for location, testing, and maintenance information, and see the Ontario Building Code for provincial requirements. (Photo: Jenn McCallum)

These problems can, as already mentioned, be sewer safety or caused by E. coli. Although E. coli bacteria occur naturally in the intestines of humans and other warm-blooded animals, they can cause disease if they enter and ingested water.

With proper care and a keen eye, an owner can ensure their septic tank bed stays healthy and functioning well. For example, if you discover that a damp area has appeared on your lawn above the leach bed, it may indicate that the bed is beginning to clog and needs attention.

Also, be careful that trees are not planted near (or grow into) septic tanks or leach beds. Their roots can disrupt the sewage system. For more advice on maintaining sewage treatment plants, please see the many useful resources of the Peterborough-based Ontario Onsite Wastewater Association at www.oowa.org.

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Now that I’ve spent time learning about wells and septic tanks with Lindsay Burtt from the Douro-Dummer community, I have a new understanding of what it takes to install and maintain them.

While many city dwellers hardly worry about water and sewage, our rural neighbors ensure the health and safety of their households by taking responsibility themselves.

I would like to give Lindsay Burtt and his colleagues and Peterborough’s water and wastewater treatment staff a glass of admiration and appreciation.

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