An estimated 27,000 homes — roughly 67,500 residents — are served by private water wells in El Paso County. There are an estimated 30,000 operating septic systems in the county.
For homeowners who depend on well water and a septic system, some simple preventive maintenance and periodic inspections can ward off costly problems later.
The National Ground Water Association, at wellowner.org, recommends an annual well maintenance check, including testing the water for bacteria, nitrates/nitrites and "any contaminants of local concern." In addition to that yearly testing, a change in taste, odor or appearance should spur a water quality check, per the NGWA.
Water from private wells is not monitored for quality by government agencies, but El Paso County Public Health provides water testing. The cost depends on what is being tested — a menu of services and the corresponding fees are available at elpasocountyhealth.org.
"What you cannot do is bring some water to the lab and say, 'Just test for everything,'" said Aaron Doussett, water quality program manager for El Paso County Public Health."That's too broad. When you do a water test, it's a very prescribed, specific method for a specific result."
Bottles for collecting samples are available from El Paso County Public Health. To save Falcon residents a drive into Colorado Springs, sample bottles are usually also available at Falcon Fire Station No. 3, 7030 Old Meridian Road.
Other tips from the NGWA:
- Periodically check the well cover or well cap to ensure it is in good repair.
- Keep hazardous chemicals, such as paint, fertilizer and motor oil, away from the well.
- Take care in working or mowing around the well. A damaged casing can jeopardize the sanitary protection of the well.
- Always use licensed or certified water well drillers and pump installers when a well is constructed, a pump is installed or the system is serviced.
Every three years or so, you should have your septic system evaluated, and possibly pumped out, by a licensed contractor, Doussett said. Exactly how often it is needed will depend on usage. Signs that it may be time –- or past time –- to have the system evaluated range from showers and sinks draining slowly to bad odors emanating from the leach field.
Other than those regular checks, maintenance revolves around paying attention to what goes into the system and taking steps to protect the leach field, Doussett said, ”A lot of chemicals can affect the biology of your septic tank," impacting the bacteria that help digest the waste. Drain cleaner, for example, can kill the bacteria and disrupt the operation of the tank. Some issues might be resolved by adding bacteria to the tank "to get that system back up to a good biological state,” he said.
Among steps recommended by El Paso County Public Health:
- Learn the location of your septic tank and leach field, and keep a sketch of it handy with a maintenance record of service visits
- Water conservation is important for septic systems. Try not to do more than two loads of laundry a day; more than that can overload the septic system with water, causing it to pass solids into the leach field.
- Don't use a garbage disposal if you have a septic system; the food scraps can add to the solids in the tank and require more frequent pumping. Colorado requires a larger-size leach field if a garbage grinder/disposal unit is being used in the house.
- Don't drive on or park over any part of the system. Don't allow livestock over the leach field.