Septic system add-on discussed at sewer meeting

Most of the Brown County Regional Sewer District’s meeting March 7 was spent discussing an alternative to a public sewer system.

Board President Evan Werling said he met Stuart Meade at a wastewater treatment show in Indianapolis. He asked him to come to Brown County to discuss a sewage treatment system he designs and distributes, which is “a midsize alternative between a septic system and a full-size sewer system,” Werling said.

Brown County has many neighborhoods that have houses close together but don’t have “a sufficient accumulation of people to have a full-blown sewer system,” Werling said.

“We’re never going to have a countywide sewer system,” Werling said. “We don’t have the population density.”

Meade described how the “secondary treatment” process works in cooperation with a septic system. A large, fiberglass tank is installed in the ground to receive wastewater after it enters the septic tank. In the secondary tank, the “trash” which will not biodegrade, like dental floss and hygiene products, is caught and the remainder of the waste is fed a constant supply of oxygen and broken down by bacteria.

Most septic systems fail over time, often because of a buildup of “biomass” in the tank, he said.

The secondary treatment system reduces the ability of that material to accumulate. Meade said the processes happening in the secondary tank allow the liquid exiting it to be significantly reduced in waste strength.

The secondary system still needs to be used with a traditional septic field, he said. But because of the lower waste strength coming out of the tank, the state allows that absorption field to be about 30 percent smaller in clay soils such as Brown County’s than it would normally have to be, he said.

Meade said the secondary treatment system has been used to “remediate” failing septic systems — though the company makes no guarantees that it will work. He said he has customers sign a document that they understand that.

Installed, a secondary system that would serve a three-bedroom house — the smallest available — would cost about $6,000, Meade estimated.

“These exponentially extend the life of your septic system,” he said. “I’m not going to say they will last forever, but they will not fail because of biomat.”

Meade said that Werling also had asked him to talk about how septic systems should be properly used and maintained.

He advised against using garbage disposals and putting food down the drain, which increases the strength of the waste going into the system. Meade also suggested installing low-flow fixtures to limit the amount of water flowing in. He said tanks need to be pumped about every three to five years — before the sludge layer becomes too thick and that waste fills too much of the tank or clogs the absorption field, causing the system to fail.

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Sara Clifford has been raising a family in Brown County since 2005 and leading the Brown County Democrat since late 2009. In addition to editor, she is the beat reporter for town government and writes columns, features and general news stories.