Issue 14, June 2000

Features in this issue:

            Groundwater Database, Inc.
            Sand Bioreactors for Wastewater Treatment for Ohio Communities (Bulletin 876)
            RWASTE
 

Groundwater Woes in Indiana

The Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) recently withdrew its proposed residential onsite wastewater rule because it became apparent that there was no pretreatment system available (sand filters, wetlands, etc) that could consistently treat septic tank effluent to meet drinking water standards for nitrates. Why would we need a septic system that could do that? It turns out that the federal government several years ago developed “ground water protection” standards, with the intent that no material reaching the ground water with more than 10 ppm (parts per million) of nitrate nitrogen, which is also the maximum allowed in drinking water. The primary issue here is where the "groundwater" impact is measured. The ISDH is working with other government agencies to find a resolution to the situation. Just where this will leave septics is not yet clear. The other industry that could be affected is Agriculture. Indiana does a lot of things well, but none better than raising crops and livestock. This would not be possible without commercial fertilizer (including nitrogen). Given what is at stake, this regulation may yet exempt various activities, or at least be muted in its impact on those activities. The future of onsite systems in Indiana is to be decided soon in Indianapolis. Potentially, some soils may need recirculating sand filters or other treatments to reduce nitrogen levels going to the absorption field. Hopefully this will all be revealed by the time our next (and last) newsletter reaches you in about three months.

How can nitrogen be removed from septic tank effluent?

The possibility of groundwater contamination from on-site sewage disposal systems by nitrates appears to increase when homes with onsite disposal systems are closely spaced, have a well aerated unsaturated soil zone, or are on soils with low C.E.C. or low moisture holding capacity.

The previous article explains that lower nitrogen levels may be needed in the effluent entering the absorption areas in some soils. Fortunately, there are several pretreatment systems that can do this. Virtually all use a natural biological process called nitrification-denitrification. Basically, nitrification is the conversion of nitrogen into nitrate and denitrification is the conversion of nitrate into nitrogen gas. This is the most environmentally-friendly way to remove nitrogen, since nitrogen is released as nitrogen gas (N2) which is naturally occurring (nitrogen gas makes up nearly 80% of the air we breathe).

(The drinking water limit (10 ppm) is listed as nitrate-nitrogen, or nitrate as nitrogen (NO3-N). This is not the same as 10 ppm of nitrate. The difference is in the molecular weight. Nitrogen has a molecular weight of 14, nearly the same as oxygen (16), which makes up most of the rest of air. Nitrate-nitrogen reflects the amount of N, which if measured in nitrate (NO3) would be about 4 1/2 times higher (10 ppm NO3-N =45 ppm Nitrate). Most nitrogen concentrations, whether nitrate or ammonium, are expressed as nitrogen (NO3 –N or NH3-N) to put things on a common footing.)

Okay, back to nitrification-denitrification. The nitrogen found in septic effluent is approximately 25% organic and 75% soluble ammonium nitrogen (NH4-N). Septic tank effluent typically averages 40 to 80 parts per million (ppm) nitrogen per household a year. When nitrogen in wastewater is aerated, it becomes nitrate (NO3). Nitrate is very mobile in soil and any that is not taken up quickly by the plant roots can end up in a tile line or the ground water. Since onsite systems normally discharge effluent below the root zones (usually not more than 2 inches deep for grass), this is a concern. By recycling the aerated or nitrified (NO3) effluent back to the anaerobic (no air present) material in the recirculation tank, bacteria in the waste quickly use the oxygen attached to the nitrogen in NO3 (denitrifcation), This releases the nitrogen gas (Figure 1).

Recirculating sand filters work very hard at this nitrification-denitrification process, recycling between the aerobic environment of the sand filter and the anaerobic one of the recirculation tank as many as four or five times.

It is also possible to accomplish this with an aerobic treatment system where the effluent is recycled back to the chamber containing tank effluent ahead of the aeration unit. Another method is to operate the aerator on a timer so that is continuously switches between aerobic-anaerobic environments.

Wetlands today are very effective at organic treatment, but are not designed for nitrogen removal. It might be necessary to precede the wetland with an aeration system, or oversize the wetland to ensure an aerobic environment and recycle the effluent back through the wetland several times.

Recirculating Sand Filter
Figure 1. Recirculating Sand Filter

Landscaping Septic Systems

If you have a mound system, or are planning to install one, and are looking at landscaping options; the University of Minnesota Extension Service has a 4-page brochure that can help. The best suggestion for "camouflaging" your mound system is to start during the planning stages and fit the landscaping to the acceptable areas of your lot. This booklet includes a couple of design ideas, as well as a list of plants that are hardy in dry conditions. Water-loving plants should never be used near an absorption field and trees that seek water reservoirs (poplar, maple, willow, elm) must be planted at least 50 feet away. This publication can be ordered directly from UM Extension at 1-800-876-8636 for $0.75 each (call for bulk discounts). [Alert: Due to a typesetting error in the University of Minnesota Extension Service publication, the toll-free number was listed as "1-800-976-8636" in the hard-copy format of this newsletter. We truly regret any inconvenience and embarrassment caused by this error.]

Construction Open House at Purdue Throckmorton Farm



Reducing the environmental impacts of septics in many cases will require more complex and more expensive pretreatment of septic effluent before it is discharged to the soil. In order to encourage interest in pretreatment systems, a 4-day construction open house was held at Purdue's Throckmorton farm beginning on May 30, 2000, 10 miles south of Lafayette on US 231, where a recirculation sand filter, drip irrigation system, and graveless shallow trench system were installed to treat the 2100 gallons of domestic wastewater that will be generated each day. Ninety contractors and county health officers attended at least a portion of this open house. Hack Excavating did the installation and Earthtek did the design using components from Zabele , Orencoe , PM Associatese and Hartford City Concrete. Goff Electric wired the pumps and installed the electrical controls. A number of staff from the ISDH attended and Ron Noles, Tippecanoe County Health Office, was there nearly every day. Thanks very much to all these folks for their excellent help.

The Throckmorton farm will become the headquarters for Purdue's Horticulture field work and is expected to be a very popular place, particularly in the summer and fall with many people stopping to buy produce. A large display showing the layout plans will be located beside the control panel for the pumps.

Wastewater Treatment Programs Serving Small Communities

A surprising number of households in Indiana still lack adequate sewage facilities. The US EPA has published a brochure that aims to help these households and their communities get information that can help solve the problem.

It provides an overview of nine EPA-funded programs that offer training, financial and technical assistance, and outreach to small communities to help improve their wastewater facilities. There is also a contact information/hotline list including a contact for each particular program. It is available from the EPA's Office of Water Resources Center (202/260-7786 - refer to document number EPA-832-R-00-002) and online at www.epa.gov/OW/smallc.htm under the "small communities publications" button.



Homer & Maud Homeowner

Homer & Maud Homeowner

Percolation Rate -- Homer and Maud Style (timing coffee pot as it filters coffee)
"Percolation Rate" -- Homer and Maud Style!



Terminology For Onsite Systems

M

manhole: see inspection port

mastic: putty-like materials that are used to coat or cement various parts of a septic system to seal it or make it watertight

microorganism: any living creature, including bacteria, viruses, and protozoan, of microscopic or submicroscopic size

mound: a type of soil absorption area that is raised above the natural soil surface using an appropriate fill material; smaller than a raised-bed system; used when the depth of permeable soil is less than the required 4 feet or in areas of high water table

N

National Sanitation Foundation (NSF): a non-profit organization that certifies the construction of components and materials in wastewater treatment systems

O

onsite sewage treatment: a general term referring to any of the various systems for treating waste emanating from a household plumbing fixture or water treatment unit

organic mat: the microorganisms and organic matter that build up around a soil absorption area at the media-soil interface; can be especially prevalent with sandfilters

organic matter: any material derived from living things

outhouse: a small, shed-like structure, away from the main dwelling that houses a waterless toilet. Synonym: privy

outlet pipe: the pipe conveying wastewater out of a vessel (septic tank, distribution box, etc)

overflow pipe: a flow-relief pipe to convey excess wastewater from a vessel (drop manhole, dosing siphon, etc.)

P

package plant: see aerobic unit

pathogen: any microorganism that is hazardous to human health

percolation or perc test: an old method of determining the suitability of the soil for an absorption area; a test hole is dug, water added to the hole, and the rate of infiltration of water into the soil is determined

percolation rate: see infiltration rate

perforated pipe/tile: the pipe in an absorption area that contains regularly-spaced holes to release effluent into the media such as sand or aggregate and then into the soil

permeable: allowing liquid to pass through; used when describing soil absorption systems and their suitability for sewage treatment. Antonym: impermeable

pressure distribution: using a pump to distribute septic tank or aerobic unit effluent through the pipe network of a soil absorption area resulting in a more even distribution of effluent over the soil than does gravity distribution

primary treatment: the treatment of household sewage that takes place in a septic tank, separates floating and settleable soils from raw wastewater

R

raised system: an absorption trench system constructed in appropriate fill material placed above the natural soil surface; larger than a mound system

Rhodamine-B dye test: see dye test

Lighten Up! Technology for Country Folk…

LOG ON: makin the wood stove hotter
LOG OFF: don’t add no more wood
MONITOR: keepin’ an eye on the wood stove
DOWNLOAD: getting the farwood down off’n the truk
MEGA HERTZ: when yer not keerful gettin the farwood
FLOPPY DISC: whatcha git from tryin to carry too much farwood
RAM: that thar thang whut splits farwood
HARD DRIVE: gettin home in the winter time
PROMPT: whut the mail ain’t in the winter time
WINDOWS: whut to shut wen it’s cold outside
SCREEN: whut to shut wen it’s blak fly season
BYTE: whut them dang flys do
CHIP: munchies fer the TV
MICRO CHIP: whuts in the bottom of the munchie bag
MODEM: whut cha did to the hay fields
DOT MATRIX: Old Dan Matrix’s wife
LAP TOP: whar the kitty sleeps
KEYBOARD: whar ya hang the dang keys
SOFTWARE: them dang plastic forks and knifs
MOUSE: whut eats the grain in the barn
MAINFRAME: holds up the barn roof
PORT: Fancy Flatlander wine
ENTER: Northerner talk fer "c’mon in y’all"
RANDOM ACCESS MEMORY: wen ya cain’t ‘member whut ya paid fer the rifle when yore wife aks.
MOUSE PAD: that there is hippie talk fer the rat hole

A Brief History of IOWPA

IOWPA hopes to work closely with manufacturers for new product information and training, improving communication between all members of our association, and better understanding of the issues that affect Indiana citizens who live beyond the reach of sanitary sewers.

The mission statement of IOWPA is: To educate and to promote a high standard of workmanship by encouraging a code of ethics among our members who are committed to protecting the waters of Indiana.

To provide the onsite wastewater industry in Indiana with a strong and unified voice that represents the common interests and concerns of its members on a statewide level.

Prompted by the implementation of the Environmental Management Code 320IAC8 in October of 1984, Indiana septic tank cleaners and their affiliates formed the Northern Indiana Pumpers Association (NIPA). NIPA initiated a statewide effort to alter some of the rules that thei members felt were too difficult to comply with. Due to the overwhelming response of septic tank cleaners across the state, the Indiana Pumpers Association was formed.

In January 1997 the name was changed to the Indiana Septic Association (ISA) with the intention of clarifying its purpose. An Executive Director was appointed and our quarterly newsletter "ON PRO" was published.

Later that year, by popular vote at their annual conference, the name was finally changed to the Indiana Onsite Wastewater Professionals Association (IOWPA).

The purpose for these changes was to encourage participation by all professionals active in the onsite wastewater industry. The Association now includes cleaners, system installers, wastewater plant operators, product manufacturers, educators, engineers, and regulators. Annual registration fee is $50 for individual or $100 for corporate members. Our Board of Directors consists of representatives from all these professions.

Following is a list of our current Officers. Feel free to contact any of them if you should have questions or would like to learn more about IOWPA.

President: John Vanderbosch 800/462-6072
VP: Forrest Hershberger 219/533-1301
Secretary: Diana Miller 219/264-4833
Treasurer: Judy Cleland 317/228-9642

Alan Dunn Honored

On April 4, Alan Dunn, manager of the Residential Sewage Disposal Dept. in the Sanitary Engineering Division, received the State Health Commissioner Award for his technical expertise and assistance on soils, septic system design, rule interpretation, and expert dispute resolution among the disparate interests of engineers, contractors, manufacturers, and suppliers. Congratulations, Alan!


ONSITE ONLINE

Groundwater Database, Inc.

This web site offers several options including Septic System Tracking and can be customized to a particular customer's requirements. Check it out: http://www.waterweb-gwdb.com

Sand Bioreactors for Wastewater Treatment for Ohio Communities (Bulletin 876)

This publication from Ohio State University Extension is directed at designers and regulators of wastewater treatment systems. It includes information on single pass and recirculating sand bioreactors (or filters), as well as different styles and designs (open, buried, and covered). There is also detailed information on construction, media requirements, dosing options, and pretreatment, and disinfection (particularly UV disinfection). Other sections address the advantages and disadvantages, details on operation and maintenance, and troubleshooting. The section on regulations and permits applies specifically to Ohio regulations. This publication is available for loan from our office (carols@purdue.edu or 765/494-1174) or directly from The Ohio State University Extension online at http://ohioline.ag.ohio-state.edu/b876/b876_11.html

The price is $1.50 per copy with a 20% discount for orders of 50 copies or more.

RWASTE

http://danpatch.ecn.purdue.edu/~onsite/ is the home of Purdue's online septic system design program. It now designs conventional onsite soil absorption systems as well as elevated sand mounds. This program is based on the proposed ISDH rule and on MWPS-24, "Onsite Domestic Sewage Disposal." The user must provide information on their proposed site as slope, depth to groundwater, and a soil profile.

Mandated Certification of Onsite Professionals

According to the article in Small Flows Quarterly, the following table represents the current status of onsite certification by state:
State
Contractors
Installers
Inspectors
Pumpers
Designers
Engineers
Geologists
Operators
AL
Y
Y
Y
Y
N
Y
Y
Y
AK
Y
Y
NA
NA
NA
Y
NA
NA
AZ
Y
Y
NA
Y
NA
Y
Y
NA
AR
N
Y
N
Y
Y
N
N
N
CA
N
N
N
N
N
N
N
N
CO
N
N
N
N
N
Y
N
Y
CT
NA
Y
Y
Y
NA
Y
NA
NA
DE
Y
Y
N
Y
Y
Y
N
Y
FL
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
GA
Y
Y
Y
Y
N
N
N
N
HI
N
N
N
N
N
Y
N
Y
ID
N
Y
Y
Y
N
N
N
N
IL
Y
Y
NA
Y
NA
NA
NA
NA
IN
N
N
N
N
N
N
N
N
IA
N
N
N
Y
N
N
N
N
KS
NA
NA
NA
NA
NA
Y
Y
Y
KY
Y
Y
Y
Y
N
N
N
N
LA
NA
Y
NA
NA
NA
NA
NA
NA
ME
N
Y
Y
N
Y
Y
Y
N
MD
N
Y
Y
N
N
N
N
N
MA
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
N
Y
MI
N
N
N
N
N
N
N
N
MN
NA
Y
Y
Y
Y
NA
NA
Y
MS
NA
Y
Y
Y
NA
NA
NA
NA
MO
Y
N
N
Y
N
Y
N
N
MT
N
N
N
N
N
N
N
N
NE
N
N
N
N
N
N
N
N
NV
NA
NA
NA
NA
NA
NA
NA
NA
NH
N
Y
N
N
Y
Y
N
Y
NJ
N
N
N
N
N
N
N
N
NM
Y
Y
N
N
N
N
N
N
NY
N
N
N
Y
N
N
N
N
NC
N
N
Y
N
N
N
N
N
ND
Y
Y
Y
N
N
N
N
N
OH
N
N
N
N
N
N
N
N
OK
Y
Y
N
Y
Y
N
N
Y
OR
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
PA
N
N
Y
N
N
Y
Y
N
RI
Y
Y
Y
N
Y
Y
N
Y
SC
Y
Y
NA
Y
NA
NA
NA
NA
SD
N
Y
N
N
N
N
N
N
TN
N
Y
N
Y
N
Y
Y
Y
TY
N
Y
Y
Y
N
N
N
Y
UT
N
N
N
N
N
N
N
N
VT
N
N
N
N
Y
N
N
Y
WA
N
N
N
N
N
Y
Y
Y
WV
N
Y
N
Y
N
N
N
N
WI
N
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
N
WY
N
N
N
N
Y
Y
Y
N

NA = not available

Marilyn Noah, taken from Small Flows Quarterly, National Small Flows Clearinghouse, Winter 2000, Volume 1, Number 1.