It’s Never A Good Day When Your Septic Goes Bad

by wjw on March 31, 2023

If you’re allergic to discussions involving human waste, read no farther. I forgive you.

We’ve hired some people to renew the trim on our house, and three days ago they discovered that a freshwater spring had opened in the back yard. Which is arid New Mexico sandy desert, so a freshwater spring isn’t exactly what anyone was expecting. Some work with a shovel uncovered a PVC pipe from which water was flowing. This was near our septic tank, but the water seemed clean. The pipe had been sliced off, and whatever it connected to was gone.

I remembered our old septic tank, which had split in half maybe twelve years ago, and which had its roof crushed in by a backhoe and had been backfilled with soil, with a new septic dropped in right next to it. I suspected the pipe had been connected to the old tank, but my memory of the installation wasn’t very clear, and in any case I had no idea why water was flowing out of it.

But the house had to be painted, and my life is very full, and the pipe dried up anyway, so investigation was postponed till the painting was done.

Then last night, around midnight, I followed a bad smell into one of the bathrooms, and discovered that waste water was bubbling up into the toilet. And the shower. And the toilets and showers of the other bathrooms.

Now the toilets are a good five feet above the level of the septic tank, and something had to be pressuring the nasty stuff upward, and the only pressurizing device in the system was the well water pump. Which I shut off at the breaker, after which the waste water levels seemingly dropped to normal.

I was happy that this worked, but I was aware that it made no sense. Pipes carrying drinking water should not be connected to waste water pipes, let alone pressurize them.

The septic specialists arrived in the afternoon to drain the septic tank— which was incredibly full, especially considering we’d had it pumped last summer, and I explained the situation to an older man wise in the way of the septic tank. The Wise Old Septimancer asked me if I had a water purifier hooked up the system. I had. “There’s your problem,” said he.

The water purifier, for whatever reason, was not shutting off and was purifying water 24/7. If the water wasn’t used in the house, the excess went into the waste water system, and after it filled the septic tank it had to go somewhere else, which turned out to be the showers and toilets and a freshwater spring.

So after I shut off the water purifier, turned on the well water pump, and various things were snaked and/or pumped out, the problem was solved.

Except for, y’know, the brown ring now awaiting us in the showers, which were dealt with after much scrubbing and expenditure of Lysol (“kills 99% of bacteria and viruses”).

So all is now restored to normal, other than the whole “wasting most of a day” thing.

I have vowed not to get wasted ever again.

Derek April 1, 2023 at 2:03 am

An ordurous ordeal!

I too have both a water purifier and a septic at my new (70s built) home, which has already had problems galore. Though I’m in California (recently the land of torrential rain and hailstorms), precautions are clearly warranted. Warning much appreciated!

Perhaps we can look forward to Quillifer battling a subterranean sludge dragon, or the Metropolitan Constantine looking for a new Taikoen in unlikely places—if there’s an interview which connects events in Walter’s novels to real experiences, I’d love to listen.

Best wishes for the home front.

Peter D. Tillman April 3, 2023 at 4:56 pm

We had a septic go bad up in Valle Escondido, above Taos & halfway to Angel Fire. Not a septic-friendly area, ITO — hard to find soil that would pass the perc test. Indeed, our next-door neighbors had given up, and opted for a large sewage holding-tank, which they got pumped out when it got full. A disgusting, stinky operation!

Anyway. MUCH backhoe work and perc-testing later, we had a Ginormous new leach field to replace the old, silted up one. Priced to match 😟 💸
It was working just fine when we sold the house, just about 1o years ago. To a wealthy doctor in Dallas, for far less than we had into it! Nice place and a nice area, other than that. Chilly in winter!

Jim Janney April 5, 2023 at 7:49 pm

It’s not one of the more glamorous branches of magic, but it’s the septimancers who keep civilization going.

Susan B April 6, 2023 at 10:17 pm

We’ve lived with a well and septic tank since 1998, and so far we’ve only had to replace the pressure tank (twice so far) and the well pump once. We’re currently using charcoal filters that the state of Maryland installed when it was discovered around 5 years ago that a neighbor’s underground oil tank had sprung a leak and our well water tested positive for fuel oil. Sigh. At least the charcoal filters remove all the hydrocarbons and keep our water safe to drink. And after reading this post I won’t be installing any additional water purification in our system. Thanks for the heads up.

Fortunately, the septic system has only required periodic pumping (knocks on wood).

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