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Inside the world of wastewater

Sewage may not be the most romantic of topics, but the MD of Foothills says it’s important for residents to get intimate with their septic systems.

Sewage may not be the most romantic of topics, but the MD of Foothills says it’s important for residents to get intimate with their septic systems.

Most people living in rural areas are familiar with the concept of septic fields and wastewater, but MD agricultural fieldman Jeff Porter said many don’t really understand how those systems work or how to maintain them.

To bring more awareness of the topic to residents, the MD is hosting a workshop called Septic Sense: Solutions for Rural Living, presented by the Alberta Onsite Wastewater Management Association (AOWMA) and the Land Stewardship Centre.

“You have your water system and you have your septic system, and you have a basic understanding of how it all works, but this gives a more refined kind of insight into how a septic system works,” said Porter.

He said there have been a lot of new rules surrounding the systems in recent years, such as design, installation and environmental concerns, and the workshop will help residents wade through those regulations.

The workshops began two years ago as a pilot project for rural communities across Alberta. The MD held off hosting a workshop for the first couple of years to ensure it would be worthwhile, he said.

“I’d hate to invite people to something where they’re going to sit there for two hours and they’re not going to get a whole lot out of it,” said Porter. “But, we got some feedback from other municipalities that it was worthwhile and a quality presentation, so we’re happy to bring it to our residents.”

The workshop will take place at the Priddis Community Hall on March 23 from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

There is a limit of 50 registrants, said Porter. He had hoped to provide two dates for residents to choose from in order to accommodate more people, but budgetary restrictions on behalf of the Land Stewardship Centre and AOWMA limited it to one day.

He said the MD is inquiring as to how many sessions it would be eligible to host in a year. Porter has also asked how much it would cost the municipality to host a workshop on its own dime.

“We would we willing to pay for one,” said Porter. “When we have around upwards of 25,000 people in the municipality, we’ve got a large issue with wastewater systems. There are a lot of personal wastewater systems out there.”

It’s important for residents to gain at least a rudimentary education surrounding their septic systems, he said.

Sometimes it can be helpful for people to hear the ramifications of a system not operating properly and some of the issues that can arise, like water or soil contamination in the surrounding area, he said.

Septic systems have come a long way from early, rudimentary versions.

According to Porter, there was a time when some would dig a hole in the ground, put an old vehicle inside with a pipe in the cab, and cover it back up with dirt to form the septic system.

“Some of those systems are still in use today, and they worked fine and they were sited properly just out of luck in those days,” said Porter.

Over the years septic systems evolved into concrete structures, and are now made of cell systems designed to work in all types of areas, including high water tables, he said.

Beyond the design of the system, he said it’s also important for residents to learn about appropriate use to avoid problems. That can range from when to pump it out to how to use septic tank additives to increase biological digestion of waste and minimize the amount of solid waste in the system, he said.

“Along with that is the maintenance of your system,” said Porter. “You’re looking at using the proper toilet papers, single ply versus double ply, papers that break down quicker than standard papers, watching what they put down the toilet or sinks that affect how the system works.”

The discussion will also include common issues that arise with septic systems, he said. People will have the opportunity to ask experts some questions about issues they’ve run into.

There has been a lot of interest in the workshops from residents, because septic systems remain a mystery to many people who live on farms and acreages, he said.

“I grew up on a farm all my life and I knew we had a septic field and had a basic idea of how it works, and don’t drive over the field and stuff like that,” said Porter. “But other than that I don’t have an intimate knowledge of how it all worked, so it’s actually something I’m looking forward to being part of, to have a better understanding.”

Residents interested in attending the workshop must pre-register with Sherri Barrett at 403-603-6227.

Krista Conrad

About the Author: Krista Conrad

Krista Conrad is the news reporter for and the Western Wheel newspaper covering Okotoks and Foothills County. For story tips contact
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