LARGER VIEW of a sloping bank mound system installed across a natural drainage cachment, an area where where we found effluent breakout at the ends of the septic mound - evidence of a failed septic leach field Inspecting Difficult Septic System Sites: steep, lakeside, rocky

  • DIFFICULT SEPTIC SITES - CONTENTS: how to spot septic failures on difficcult sites such as steep or rocky sites, densly wooded sites, sites close to bodies of water.
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about recognizing & inspecting sites where installation of a septic tank and drainfield will be difficult or impossible
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Difficult site septic systems design, inspection, repair: this document describes how to look for visual evidence of septic failure without or before testing a septic system and also difficult site conditions that may require special measures to install a working septic system.

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How to Inspect DIFFICULT SEPTIC SITES - Indicators of Difficult Septic Installation Sites

Flooded septic system by Wappingers Creek in New York

Our page top photo shows a fresh pile of rock and soil pushed over the edge of a steep rocky embankment near where we understood a septic tank to be located. Even before beginning our inspection we were concerned about what we might find since this was a difficult septic site.

[Click to enlarge any image]

Looking for these conditions can give key information about the condition of the septic system before (and perhaps without) performing a septic loading and dye test and also before (and perhaps without) invasive septic system inspection measures such as excavation.

Septic System Near a Stream exposed to flooding: at homes along Wappingers Creek in Dutchess County, NY, many septic tanks and drainfields are close to the waterway. Seasonal flooding such as shown in this photo make drainfield floods likely.

Even when flood conditions are not present, some drainfields may be too close to the creek to comply with state building and health codes, and worse, the high water table near the creek may prevent such systems from adequately treating septic effluent before it is discharged into the environment. Up-slope drainfields with effluent pumps or other special measures may be needed.

Septic Loading & Dye Tests for Properties Close to Rivers, Lakes, Streams, Ponds & Drainage Ditches

Dye tests of septic systems close to a lake or stream like this will sometimes discover that a property owner having a failing septic system succumbed to the temptation to simply run an effluent discharge line right from the end of a bad drainfield into the stream. Remember to look both above and below the water line for unexplained pipes in the area.

Septic in shallow soil by a lake

Flat septic site near a lake: The land shown in this photo was a new home site which not only had standing water, but had only a few feet of elevation between the yard top grade and the top of the nearby lake also shown in the photo.

The pipe shown was a footing drain emptying at the edge of a nearby lake. The septic tank and drainfield were buried in this area. I couldn't imagine how a conventional septic tank and drain field would work in this location.

Here is a photo of the septic tank being installed at this property. That downspout you see spilling by the foundation needs to be extended away from the home, but not where the roof drainage will simply enter the septic tank and flood the leach field.

Here is a photo of the end of the home footing drain, higher than where the bottom of a leach field trench needs to go, and spilling into the lake.

Here is a photo of the contractor's "repair" of the exposed footing drain and minimal soil depth at the property. I can't inform readers of what the building department ultimately had to say about this installation.

  • Septic Site slope and runoff: Is surface runoff, sump pump drainage, storm drainage, or building roof runoff directed onto the septic tank or drain field area? (Risks flooding the system.)

  • Parking over the septic tank?

    Vehicle areas near Septic Tanks or Fields: Is there evidence of driving or parking on the leachfield or over a tank? (Risks damaging the system or dangerous collapse.)

    At the property shown in this photo, the truck is parked over a "low boy" septic tank which was installed over bedrock.

    The rock pile shown at the top of this page was behind this truck and pushed over the embankment to cover a failed seepage pit - there was no working drainfield at this site.

    LARGER VIEW of a wet site near a lake

    [Click to enlarge any image]

    Soil conditions before septic test start: What are soil and site conditions before start of the test: are there wet areas, evidence of surface discharge of effluent or sewage, green grassy or soft, suspect areas?

    Odors? It is important to be able to record these conditions and their extent before and after testing.

    These pages are part of our SEPTIC DYE TEST PROCEDURE for testing septic system function. Technical review by industry experts has been performed and is ongoing - reviewers are listed at REFERENCES. Comments and suggestions for content are welcome.


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