Thursday, May 30, 2013

Septic System Care Begins with You

Your septic system is an extremely important part of your home. It needs regular care and maintenance, just like any other large piece of equipment.  Many of us learn the hard way when something goes wrong and we have to pay the price to get it fixed while suffering the mess and inconvenience of a malfunctioning system.
Some simple “Dos” and “Don’ts” will help extend the life of your septic system, save on maintenance costs, and protect water quality.

·         Inspect your septic system annually. Regular inspections help take care of problems when they are small and less expensive to fix!
·         Keep accurate records of your septic system. This includes information such as what type of septic system you have, where it is located, when it was last pumped (usually every three to five years) and when other maintenance was performed.
·         Use less water.  Use appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines one at a time and spread out their usage so that you are not using them back to back. This allows time for solids in the septic tank to settle, and keeps too much water at once from overwhelming the drainfield.
·         Direct water from downspouts and roofs away from the drainfield.

Keep cars, trucks and livestock off the septic tank and drainfield areas. The soil around the septic tank and drainfield is an important part of the septic system – it does a better job when it is not compacted and the weight from vehicles or livestock can damage casing and pipes of the system.
·         Install risers for easier access. 
·         Choose less toxic household products for cleaning and hobbies.  Any labels that says danger or poison can harm the septic system, even those intended to go down the sink.
·         Avoid use of garbage disposals because they send solids and grease into your septic system, and that can lead to drainfield failure.
·         Don’t use any septic tank additives or “miracle” system cleaners. These chemicals can actually harm your septic system by allowing solids to flow into and clog the drainfield. The chemicals can also contaminate groundwater and surface water.  At the very least, these products have not been shown to help septic systems.  Save your money for annual inspections.
·         Don’t dispose of water from hot tubs into the septic system. Too much water in the system at once is harmful to the system and chlorine can destroy important bacteria in the system. Instead, drain hot tubs onto the ground away from the drainfield.
·         Don’t flush solid wastes into the septic system. This includes diapers, wipes, cigarette butts, coffee grounds, tampons, condoms, and grease.
·         Don’t put strong chemicals; such as hazardous cleaning products, down the drain. Household chemicals like drain cleaners, paint thinners, and floor cleaners can destroy important bacteria in the septic tank and contaminate groundwater and surface water.
·         Don’t construct patios, carports, or use landscaping plastic over the drainfield. Grass is the best cover for your septic tank and drainfield. Compacting the soil and paving prevents oxygen from getting into the soil. This oxygen is needed to breakdown and treat the sewage.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Slow-release Fertilizers: Green Lawns AND Safe Drinking Water

May is one of the best times to feed lawns because they are growing fast and quickly using up the last of winters’ reserves. Warmer soils mean more soil activity as the soil critters that help break down the fertilizer are more active and ready to eat! Choose a slow-release to feed them and your lawn this spring.

Why choose slow-release fertilizers?
·         Slow-release fertilizers depend on soil microbes to break down the nutrients and this makes the fertilizer last longer in the soil to give plants a steady source of nutrients.
·         Slow-release fertilizers are less likely to run off lawns and pollute lakes, rivers, streams, and Puget Sound.
·         Slow-release fertilizers are less likely to move down through soils and contaminate groundwater. In Thurston County, we drink groundwater.
·        Organic and slow-release fertilizers don’t contain toxic weed or bug killers that other brands may contain.  Weed and bug killers destroy the soil microbes that live in healthy soils. Healthy lawns need healthy soils just like other plants do.

How do I find slow-release fertilizers?
To find slow-release fertilizers, look for the terms “slow-acting” or “long-lasting” on labels. Read the fine print – 50% of the nitrogen should be non-soluble in slow-release fertilizers.  Most organic fertilizers are slow-release and include aged manure, seed meal, bone meal, poultry and fish by-products.  In Thurston County, you can find slow-release fertilizer at local nurseries.

The Grow Smart, Grow Safe is a great resource for choosing lawn and garden products. It ranks hundreds of products to help you find the ones that are least hazardous to people, pets, and the environment.

For more information on Common Sense Gardening, including a fertilizer fact sheet, visit the Common Sense Gardening website or call, (360) 867-2577 to have Common Sense Gardening materials sent to your home.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Remember Mr. Yuk?
He tells children that a product is yucky and bad for them. But how do adults know that a product is hazardous? A household can be filled with a number of toxic products that can harm children, pets, and adults.

How can you tell if a product is hazardous?
The law requires the following signal words on the label of household hazardous products:
  • Danger or Poison (Highest hazard)
  • Caution or Warning (Moderage hazard)
  • Does NOT have any of the above signal words (Safest)
Read labels before you purchase household products. Choose the least hazardous product and purchase only the amount you need for the job. This will minimize the amount of harmful products stored in your home.

Follow the directions for safer use. Many household products direct users to wear protective gear such as gloves or eyewear or to use the product in a well ventilated space. These directions are important to follow in order to minimize health effects.

Store hazardous products safely. Avoid storing chemicals under the sink or near a well or wellhouse. Also, keep household hazardous products away from children, pets, food, heat, and flames. Always store chemicals sealed in their original containers. Place containers inside an old tub or bucket so any drips or leaks are captured. Never put chemicals in food containers.

Dispose of unwanted chemicals at HazoHouse. Drive through and drop off unwanted household hazardous products for free at HazoHouse, located at the Waste and Recovery Center in Lacey. Remember to store these products safely in your vehicle. Never mix different products together, seal lids tightly, and secure them in a container upright so they are not jostling around during transportation. Keep them away from children, pets, and vehicle passengers.

Make your own green cleaners! These are effective, cost efficient, and best of all - not hazardous!

Taking the time for safety is always a smart choice for you and your family.

Friday, May 10, 2013

How to test your well water

Thinking about getting your water tested?  Great idea! 

Thurston County Environmental Health Division recommends testing your well water for bacteria once a year.  Test for nitrate at least every three years, before bringing home an infant, and when a woman living in the home is pregnant, nursing, or trying to become pregnant.  So really, when did you last get your well water tested? 

If you are on city water or a community water system, don’t worry.  Cities and community water systems test the water even more often.  You can see the results in their annual water quality report found on each city’s website.  Or, call the water system operator and ask about the water quality test results. 

Ready to test?  Here’s how.
Pick up sample bottles at one of six Thurston County locations including one in Yelm, Rainier, Rochester, Tenino, and Olympia at the county courthouse and the public health building on Lilly Road.  There are also two locations in Mason County. To find the specific locations and hours visit the County’s How to Collect a Water Sample web page or call (360) 867-2631.
You can pay the $27 testing fee at some of the locations or send a check with the water sample (see the web page for details).
There are specific details about collecting a water sample in the directions that come with the sample bottle.  Here are a few hints. 
Be sure to keep the bottle sterile.  Don’t touch the inside of the bottle or the lid, even if you just washed your hands.  You may see moisture or white powder inside the bottle.  It is supposed to be there, please don’t rinse it out.  Actually, don’t rinse the bottle at all, just fill it as directed. 
Plan ahead.  The filled sample bottle should be returned the same day you take the sample.  You might even want to bring it to us in a cooler. Check your preferred location, to see when samples can be accepted, as many have limited hours.  Some testing requires time for any potential germs to grow, so we generally cannot accept samples on Friday.  
You should receive test results by mail within a few days of when you submitted the sample. If your sample shows contamination, you will receive a phone call immediately and information on how to proceed with your specific situation.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

What is Groundwater?

When the rain falls, where does it go?
Some of it runs along driveways, sidewalks, lawns and parking lots into streams, rivers, lakes, and in many parts of Thurston County, into Puget Sound. Some of the rain that falls gets used by plants and some of it is evaporated into the air.

About half of the rain that falls in Thurston County soaks into the ground and becomes groundwater.

In Thurston County, we drink groundwater. City and private wells pump water from the ground and into our water supply.

As the water soaks through the ground, the small particles of soil, dirt, and clay filter the water as it reaches an underground aquifer.
As water makes its way into the ground it can carry with it yard and household chemicals. All life depends on clean water!  To help keep our drinking water supply clean, choose household products without the words danger or poison on the label.  Care for yards without using hazardous bug and weed killers and make sure not to store hazardous materials in well houses or in unsecured containers.

Always take old or unwanted hazardous materials to HazoHouse for free, safe disposal and be sure to use products according to their labels.

We are literally walking all over our water supply. Let’s do our best to tread lightly!