Septic systems overwhelmed during stay-at-home order

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — The stay-at-home order has septic tank maintenance companies seeing an increase in emergency calls as systems become overwhelmed with more people home from work and school.

Calhoun County officials are reminding people about the need for maintenance after hearing from many homeowners experiencing backups.

Kevin Green, environmental public health director for the Calhoun County Public Health Department, is reminding people on ways to prevent a failure. Reducing water use can help decrease the risk of overwhelming the system.

“Since we are staying home, stay safe that we want to conserve water, not to throw anything down through your toilet more than toilet paper,” Green said.

They also suggest regular maintenance, which is something many people neglect.

“We do recommend that you get your septic system pumped and normally we recommend three to five years, depending on the number of people that are in your house,” Green said.

Pumping more often might be needed if you are having issues during the pandemic.

Kevin Snyder, the president of Flash Sanitation in Battle Creek, says they are responding to approximately double the amount of emergency backups compared with this time last year.

“We’re getting a high volume of people backing up, which is the systems are full, so the water has nowhere to go. So, it’s backing up into the house,” Snyder said in a phone interview with News 8.

Courtesy photo provided by Flash Sanitation.
Courtesy photo provided by Flash Sanitation.

He says a major part of the increase is related to the stay-at-home order.

“With everyone being home, you have a lot more water usage,” Snyder said.

The wet spring weather is the other big factor making the issue worse.

“It’s a bad time of year. The ground is already saturated, and with that volume, it has nowhere to go,” Snyder said.

The Calhoun County Public Health Department provided the following tips that can help prevent system failures:

  • Space out dishwashing and washing machine usage. Though being home is a good time to get caught up on dishes and laundry, too many loads in a day can overload a system that hasn’t been recently pumped.
  • “No Wipes in the Pipes!” Only toilet paper should be flushed. Paper towels, feminine hygiene products, cleaning wipes and even products described as “flushable” won’t break down properly in your septic system. These items need to go in the trash.
  • Avoid pouring fats, greases and solids down your drains. These substances can clog a system’s pipes and drain fields.
  • Once the stay home order is lifted, and business can reopen as “normal,” consider having your septic system serviced/pumped.

For people having significant issues, Calhoun County is issuing permits for existing homes that are seeing major backups. These allow homeowners to upgrade or make modifications to their system.