In Madison County, like much of rural Montana, many residential homes are on both individual wells and septic systems, yet many people don’t understand the regular maintenance and monitoring needed to operate both safely, said a water quality specialist with Montana Department of Environmental Quality.
In Montana, the operation of private wells and septic systems are left up to their owners, said DEQ’s Jeffrey Herrick.
Understanding how your septic system operates is important because if it’s not maintained, it could contaminate the groundwater and wells nearby, Herrick said.
Herrick and DEQ will be in Ennis next week for an afternoon seminar on how wells and septic systems operate and are maintained.
The seminar is sponsored by the Madison Conservation District in an effort to provide more training to local residents, said William Robertson, with the Madison Conservation District.
“It’s an educational workshop that’s meant to inform folks in the county about how their well and septic systems function and the various maintenance required to keep them functioning properly,” Robertson said.
The workshop will be March 21 at First Madison Valley Bank in Ennis from 3 to 6 p.m. Attendees should RSVP by March 19 by calling the conservation district office at 682-3181.
The workshop will allow realtors and community water system operators continuing education credits, Herrick said.
Many people don’t realize just exactly how a septic system works and with so many people in the state on individual wells, faulty septic systems can lead to contaminated water supplies, he said.
“Mostly people don’t really know where their tank is or how it operates and as a result they may not be maintaining it or pumping it on a regular interval,” Herrick said.
Septic systems operate by using bacteria to break down waste. There is bacteria in the septic tank and bacteria in the drain field. If the tank isn’t operating properly it may be putting poorly treated effluent in the groundwater, without causing any noticeable problems to the homeowner, he said.
“It can still receive everything you send it but it may not actually be properly treating that effluent,” Herrick said. “You can have the solids go right through your system and come out the other side untreated.”
This untreated effluent can get in the groundwater and effect wells that are down gradient from the septic system, he said.
Basic education on how septic systems need to be maintained can help homeowners monitor their own systems, Herrick said. Also it’s important to make sure people understand the importance of regular well testing to make sure their drinking water is clean.
Attendees to the class can bring a water sample to have it tested for nitrates, Robertson said. The water samples should come from an unfiltered source and just be in a sealed container. The testing will be done during the class.
For more information on the seminar, call the conservation district at 682-3181.