Why should I maintain my wastewater treatment system?

When wastewater treatment systems are properly designed, constructed, and maintained, they effectively reduce or eliminate most human health or environmental threats posed by pollutants in household wastewater. However, they require regular maintenance or they can fail. Systems need to be monitored to ensure that they work properly throughout their service lives.

Save money. . .

A key reason to maintain your wastewater treatment system is to save money! Failing systems are expensive to repair or replace, and poor maintenance is often the culprit. The onsite wastewater practitioner or authorized person who planned and installed your system should have provided you with a maintenance plan.  Having your system inspected regularly, according to the recommended maintenance schedule in the maintenance plan, is a bargain when you consider the cost of replacing the entire system. Your system will need pumping periodically, depending on how many people live in the house and the size of the system.  An unusable wastewater treatment system or one in disrepair will lower your property value and could pose a legal liability.

Treatment Field Maintenance

To protect your treatment field soil dispersal system, regularly pump the sludge and scum from the septic tank. An annual maintenance inspection will allow your maintainer to determine how often your septic tank requires pumping. An uncleaned tank has a reduced working capacity that results in overloads that send solids to the field, clogging the field and ruining its ability to dispose of wastewater.


Do not pave your dispersal field or drive or park on it as these activities compact the soil and damage field performance. Nothing heavier than a riding mower should be allowed on the field. Also avoid putting pathways or planting anything other than grass on top of the field.

Vegetation Cover

A field performs best if covered with grass and mowed regularly. The grass cover and landscaping that channels rainwater away from the field improves its performance. Avoid landscape plastic or fabric under mulch as this can reduce the necessary air exchange in the drainfield soil.  Mulch and bark are not recommended since they can reduce air exchange and retain water.  Trees and shrubs generally have extensive root systems.  This can interfere with or cause damage to your septic system.  Consult with an expert before planting trees near a drainfield.


Livestock should never be grazed over a septic system.  In the winter livestock can trample and muddy the soil; in the summer they can compact it.  Both of these can decrease the soil’s ability the exchange oxygen and reduce the effectiveness of your septic system.

Surface Water Diversion

Direct water flowing from drains, downspouts, driveways, sump pumps away from your dispersal field as it must remain unsaturated for the bacterial action to take place.

Consult a Certified Installer (AB, SK & MB) or Authorized Person (BC)  before major landscaping is undertaken. Changing the slopes and elevations near your system can negatively affect its performance.

Mounds, Sand Filters, Textile Filters and Package Treatment Plants

If one of these advanced treatment systems has been installed as part of your system it requires regular maintenance by a trained professional. Your Homeowner’s Manual or Maintenance Plan will provide you with additional information on the operation and maintenance of the unit. Common maintenance includes: cleaning filters, resetting controls, assessing sludge levels and inspecting and cleaning orifices and screens.

Things to Keep in Mind

Do have your system inspected (every one to three years) and pump your tank (as necessary, generally every 18 – 36 months).
Do use water efficiently.
Don’t dispose of household hazardous wastes in sinks and toilets.
Do plant only grass over and near your septic system. Roots from nearby trees or shrubs might clog and damage the dispersal field.
Don’t drive or park vehicles on any part of your septic system. Doing so can compact the soil in your dispersal field or damage the pipes, tank, or other septic system components.

Tank Cleaning

New home installation – Pumping the tank should occur within 6 to 12 months of start-up. Often wastewater from a new home contains residues from painting, varnishing, staining and cleaning which reduce bacterial activity and increase the risk of solids damaging your soil dispersal system.

Established home – Pumping will be needed on a regular basis under normal use. When the tank is pumped, be present to observe the level of sludge and scum so you can adjust your cleaning schedule. Sludge should not rise higher than one-third the depth of your tank.

Septic tanks require bacterial action in order to function properly.  Pumping your tank out every twelve months or less will negatively impact the efficiency of your system.  If you must pump your tank more often than every 12 months you should increase your system capacity or decrease the wastewater sent to the system.

Seasonal Use – If the septic system receives little or no use during the cold months, do not pump the tank dry. It is best to leave about one foot of liquid in the tank to maintain the bacterial action that produces heat which reduces the risk of damage from freezing.