I have a septic tank, and I’ve had a septic tank in one yard or another for about 40 years and have rarely had a problem, particularly when I learned regular cleanouts and aerators were a huge scam. Unfortunately, there’s a different problem these days thanks to climate change.
The problem with septic systems is not just another seemingly distant threat due to climate change. Nope. It’s all happening right now; and, yes, it is projected to get worse. The inevitability of rising sea and groundwater levels is causing sewage backups in homes from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Coast. Besides backfilled toilets and stinky backyards, raw sewage is mixing with groundwater, threatening habitats and human health, plus widespread economic pain.
A Washington Post report focuses on two bays: Virginia’s Chesapeake and Florida’s Biscayne. The former is one bad hurricane away from undoing decades of intensive effort to save the bay; for the latter, septic seepage from Miami-Dade is already creating devastating algae blooms in “America’s only underwater national park.”
American septic systems are not faulty; the problem is that they were built to the standards of a time when precipitation and water levels were relatively static. In North Carolina’s Outer Banks, for example, groundwater levels are a full foot higher than in the 1980s; it doesn’t take that much to cause a septic tank to essentially flood and send raw sewage into the environment.
Unfortunately, solutions are prohibitively expensive for most communities and/or homeowners. Seeking innovation, Lewis Lawrence of the Middle Peninsula Planning District in Virginia is working to develop raised septic systems. He told the Post that, because of environmental changes, “We’ve got to be reimagining and designing our communities differently.”
I think I’m going to look into that.