ON-SITE Wastewater Newsletter


Edition 2, 1997


Access '95 is Coming

Internet Findings

Homeowner Educational Materials

You Said

News from ISDH (Indiana State Department of Health)

Do I have to Water my Lawn?

Installers and Contractors List

Homer and Maud Homeowner

Contact us


Access ’95 is coming…

We have rebuilt our database in Access ’95. This allows the database to run in either Access ’95 or Access ’97. Access ‘95 is very similar to Access ‘97, with the major difference being ‘97’s internet capability.

This database allows you to easily keep track of on-site wastewater disposal permits, installer information, and soil scientist information. It can be used to record information about an existing system that needs repair or replacment, multiple systems which you might permit for a large corporation or a cluster system, and inspections or permits that were not approved. It allows you to make graphs of permits issued (new, repair or replace) and the type of systems permitted over a time period that you specify. It allows you to locate a permit, or group of permits, by street address, zip code, type of system, type of permit, installer, and soil scientist. You can also print a one page blank application form. It is structured so that it may be used with minimal computer knowledge. Most actions can be performed by pressing a button.

With a little boldness, Access itself will allow you to perform many other tasks easily. For instance, it has a "label wizard" that will allow you to print mailing labels of any combination of records. If you want to send something to all the residences with mound systems, or to all of the installers active in your county this will be no problem for Access.

When will it be available? Sometime in late June. Several counties from different parts of the state are currently testing the program. We hope to receive a list of suggestions and an overall reaction from these test counties. Then we’ll make the final changes based on the comments and start distribution. If you would like a copy just let us know, it’s free!

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Internet findings...

Do you have access to the World Wide Web? There is a great deal of information on septics there. Here are just some of the sites that we like.


This is our page. It is just at the very beginning stages, but we hope to get some extension publications and other educational material up soon. The On-Site newsletter can be found here.


This is the homepage of the National Small Flows Clearinghouse (the site also has links to other on-site wastewater sites). They have a wealth of information on everything from the technical aspects of system design and soils, to how to raise public and financial support for your on-site or community wastewater projects, and how to provide homeowner education. The wonderful thing about Small Flows is that most of their ideas have actually been tried, so they work! They are also government funded, so what they offer is often low cost or free. They can be reached at (800) 624-8301. Sign up for their newsletter, Small Flows, and ask for a guide to their products and services.


This site tells about a new discussion group on waste. It is a good place to post questions you have about what other people are doing and thinking. The one drawback we have found is that it covers more than just wastewater, so you may have to wade through some discussion on other types of waste. The group itself, sci.environment.waste, is under newsgroups.


This is the website for the national headquarters for Home*A*Syst (http://www.wisc.edu/homeasyst/index.html) and Farm*A*Syst. Among other things, this site will provide a copy of the brochure, show you how to get your community involved, and allow you to take an interactive assessment of your farm or home. After answering questions, it will give you an evaluation of the safety of your home as well as suggestions and recommendations. The assessments include well water drinking systems, septic and wastewater treatment systems, household hazardous waste management, petroleum management, and management of livestock and poultry operations.


This is the National Extension Water Quality Database. It contains references, publications, and audiovisuals pertaining to water quality issues, including septic systems. The database is searchable. When last noted, it had approximately 2400 citations and 800 full text documents. The database contains information from 1984 to the present.

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Homeowner educational materials...

The more we dig into this project, the more we realize the need and importance of homeowner education. Many homeowners don’t know they need to pump a tank, haven’t thought about water efficiency, don’t know where their septic system is and sometimes don’t even know they have an on-site system.

Some counties are considering making on-site wastewater disposal permit applicants watch the video we highlighted in the last letter, "Septic Systems Revealed", as part of the application process. Hooray! This video, and any of our other educational material, would also be useful for installers and pumpers.

For those of you who would rather have materials on paper, we’ve found a selection.

Small Flows has put out a series of brochures for public education. Titles include:

Your Septic System: A Reference Guide for Homeowners

The Care and Feeding of Your Septic Tank System

So… Now You Own a Septic Tank

Groundwater Protection

The first 10 brochures are free, but there is a shipping charge. These one to two page brochures are public domain, which means that you may copy them as long as you give credit to Small Flows (you leave the information on the brochure crediting Small Flows).

The Minnesota Extension Service has created a folder and booklet entitled "Septic System Owner’s Guide." It covers "Safety and Health," "Septic System Features," "Use and Operation," "Maintenance and Care," and "Troubleshooting." The inside of the folder has a place to draw the system and record permit information, a system description, installer information and maintenance. The back of the folder has a simple equation for determining how often you need to clean the tank.

Purdue Unversity has a limited supply of the "Septic System Owner’s Guide" free as Cooperative Extension Publication AY-9-33. You may request one by calling (888) 398-4636.

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You said...

"Create a septic program to be used thru-out the state and install on H. D. (health department) computer systems from which info can be retrieved on a more consistent and efficient basis." — Scott Wilson of Clark Co.

"I have no idea how many failures/discharging systems there are. I’d probably faint if I knew! Most homes prior to 1980 in rural areas do not have absorption fields." — Sue Norris of Cass Co.

"Although I do my best to insure that all new systems are working, I have a serious problem with the existing systems. I currently have three towns that are on hold—no expansion, no building, no selling-due to the fact that every home is discharging to the surface. I desperately need help to find solutions to these problems." — Rita Stallings of Spencer Co.

"We sure need lots of help, espicially for our small unincorporated towns. Small lots—each with own well. Impossible situation. Throw poor drainage with no outlets for perimeter drains into that mix, and it's no wonder I'm bald." — Ed Badgley of Decatur Co.

"(I) have determined ~5000 systems discharge indirectly to lakes, this is not by design." — Bill Grant of La Grange Co.

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News from ISDH

The Residential Sewage Disposal staff has increased through the addition of a new field person. Debbie Barnhizer, an Environmental Scientist, has transferred to our program from the Environmental Health Program. Debbie will be our representative for the southern third of the state. David Ortel and Denise Wright will continue to serve the northwest and northeast sections of the state, respectively. This should permit improved service to all of our local health departments.

ISDH has recently undertaken a program to involve local health departments in the review of plans and specifications for small commercial on-site sewage disposal systems where the daily design flows do not exceed 750 gallons. At this time, we have 39 local health departments involved in this process. If you have any questions about this program, please give me a call.

One question frequently asked, especially this time of year, concerns the placement of septic systems in flood plains. ISDH Rule 410 IAC 6-8.1-48(g) prohibits the placement of soil absorption systems below the 100-year floodway elevation. For purposes of siting a new soil absorption system, the 100-year flood plain elevation is the same as the 100-year floodway elevation. For the repair, replacement, or continued use of an existing septic system, we do not object to local boards of health using its best judgment under the provisions of ISDH Rule 410 IAC 6-8.1-33(a). However, for construction of new septic systems, we must adhere to the 100-year floodway elevations as determined by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Questions concerning the determination of the floodway elevations may be directed to the Flood Plain Management Section, IDNR, at 317-232-4164. We do not address the issue of structures in flood plains, only the septic systems serving those structures. Questions concerning structures may be posed to your local building officials or IDNR at the same phone number.

If you have any questions or comments, please contact me at 317-233-7177 or by e-mail at: adunn@iquest.net.

—Alan M. Dunn, Supervisor, Residential Sewage Disposal, ISDH

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Do I have to water my lawn?

The following article by Zac Reicher should be helpful in answering questions about using automatic lawn sprinkler systems when you have a septic system. Now and then we hear reports of systems being saturated by lawn watering.

Do I have to water my lawn? If you want the nicest, densest lawn possible, you will need to water during the summer. With regular irrigation also comes regular mowing so be prepared to mow often during the summer if you irrigate. Not watering your lawn is OK too, as long as you are willing to have a slightly less attractive and less dense lawn. Non-irrigated lawns will survive all but the most extended droughts that Indiana has, but turf density will suffer.

If you decide to water your lawn, follow the simple rule of "water deep and infrequently". This means that you should not water your lawn until you see the first signs of drought stress which are a bluish green tint to the grass around midday or footprints where the grass doesn’t snap back to upright. Once you see this, you should water heavily to wet the soil down to about four to six inches. Then do not water again until you see the signs of drought stress. Not only is this the most water efficient way to water your lawn, but it also promotes healthy grass while reducing disease, weed, and insect pressure. Believe it or not, when watering a lawn, it is far better to err on the dry side than to over-water.

How much water does it take to wet 4 to 6 inches of the soil? This depends on many factors including soil type, time of watering, wind speed, etc. The only sure way to determine how deep you have watered is to use a long knife or shovel to dig into the soil and see how far down the water has moved. Another, less accurate method is to measure how long it takes your sprinkler to apply 1/2 to 1 inch of water (generally it takes about 1/2 to 1 inch of water to wet the soil profile to a 4 to 6 inch depth). Place a number of tuna cans in various locations under the pattern of a sprinkler, turn the sprinkler on and measure how much water falls into the cans. Depending on the situation, it might take an hour or more for your sprinkler to apply enough water.

Automatic irrigation systems are easy to use and effficient, but the same ideas hold true with automatic irrigation systems. Irrigate only once or twice a week, and irrigate to wet 4 to 6 inches into the soil profile. Automatic irrigation systems normally apply water at a much higher rate than hose-end sprinklers and so don’t need to be run as long. However, you can’t be sure of how long to run an automatic system unless you check the water penetration into the soil profile or use tuna cans to measure the output. Don’t get trapped into setting the automatic irrigation timer once and using the same irrigation program all summer. The program should be changed according to the needs of the turfgrass plant. I recommend leaving the system off until the lawn needs water, set the system to start for a single irrigation cycle only and then shut it off until the lawn needs watering again.

The best time of day to water is very early in the morning (3 to 8 AM). Little wind and cool temperatures reduce evaporation and thus watering is efficient at this time. Plus the water quickly dries on the leaf blade which is very desirable because prolonged leaf wetness encourages disease. Watering during the evening (8 to 11 PM) can lead to more disease problems. Watering during mid-day is very inefficient since much of the water evaporates before it moves into the soil.

-- Zac Reicher, Turfgrass Extension Specialist, Purdue University

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Installers and contractors list

We would like to send this newsletter to on-site wastewater disposal system installers and contractors that are active in Indiana. If you have a list of these, please send it our way. We would prefer it in electronic form (send us a floppy disk), but if that is not available, paper would be fine.

Homer and Maud Homeowner

"No, you can't play in the big puddle outside!"

Contact us

On-Site Editor: Catherine Taylor; Graphics and Design: Lou Jones.

e-mail: ctaylor@dept.agry.purdue.edu or ljones@dept.agry.purdue.edu

Address: Department of Agronomy, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907-1150.

Please contact us with your suggestions, comments or questions.

On-Site is a cooperative project between county health departments,
Purdue University, and the Indiana State Department of Health

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