ButteCountyRecovers: The official website for Camp Fire response and recovery.

Butte County Septic Systems Information

Post-Fire Septic Information for Residents of Unincorporated Butte County

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1. Will my septic system be ruined if I don’t use it for an extended period of time?
A standard septic system that was working properly and then not used for a period of time, such as 4 – 5 years, typically does not lose effectiveness or the ability to function properly once it is put back into use. Some of the older septic systems may even benefit from non-use by allowing some of the biomat, which is a biological clogging layer in the leachfield, to naturally break down and the soils rejuvenate. Septic systems with gravel-less chambers used for leachfields are more prone to becoming less effective over time when they are not in use. This is because gravel-less chambers are like long open tunnels underground that without wastewater flowing through them burrowing animals, like moles, can enter into them and begin to fill them with soil. Septic tanks, whether made from concrete or plastic, typically do not degrade or lose effectiveness when not in use. It is best to keep septic tanks full with water when they are not in use. This is because most empty septic tanks are not designed to withstand the exterior forces that are placed upon them from surrounding soil and groundwater when they are empty.

2. Should my septic tank be pumped?
Unless the septic tank is undergoing a repair or an evaluation it is not necessary to be pumped. If it is a plastic septic tank and is pumped and will be used in the future, it should be immediately refilled with water. The same is true for a concrete tank, although a concrete tank can be re-filled within a week and typically not have any damage risk.

3. If the top of septic tank is damaged, should I repair it?
At all times safety concerns must be addressed with damaged septic tanks. If the top of a septic tank is damaged, typically the inside of the tank is exposed. This poses a safety hazard for people and wildlife for falling into the tank. It also exposes people to the unhealthy wastewater inside. A septic tank that has undergone this kind of damage is required to be removed or destroyed in place. This is done under a permit issued by the Butte County Environmental Health Division. Typically, there is no effective method of repairing the top of a septic tank that has been damaged by fire, whether it is a plastic or concrete tank, and a repair is not allowed.

4. If my septic tank is outside of the ash footprint, what should I do with it? Should I wait until debris removal is complete? Should I cover it?
Typically, all septic tanks are located at least 5 feet from the edge of a building and are buried underground, so most septic tanks are outside of the ash footprint. There is no immediate action that a homeowner needs to take in regards to their septic tank, except to identify its location for the debris and ash removal crews who will be working around the site. If the tank is damaged in a way that poses a safety hazard for falling into, then immediate measures should be taken to remove that hazard. Laying down a large piece of plywood over the open hole is a recommended method for addressing this hazard. Caution tape should also be placed to alert people of the hazard. As previously indicated, a damaged septic tank is required to be removed or destroyed in place, but this will typically be required after debris and ash removal is completed.

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