Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems

Onsite water treatment systems (OWTS), commonly referred to as septic systems, are an integral part of Schuyler County’s infrastructure. Approximately 75% of the County’s population disposes of their wastewater through an OWTS, and with current population trends, development patterns and government financial resources that percentage is not likely to drastically change any time soon. It is the WPA’s responsibility that this infrastructure component continues to meet the needs of the individual, the public and our shared water resources.
So what is an OWTS (septic system)?

Foremost, an OWTS is a treatment system. It is a disposal system, but that tells only one aspect of its purpose. An OWTS is a system made up of multiple components, which take in wastewater produced within a facility, home or building, performs a series of biological processes, and disperses the water back into the environment in an environmentally sound manner.

It should be noted, and is often misunderstood by the general public, that a septic tank is not an OWTS; it is a component piece within the system.

There are generally two types of OWTS, conventional and alternative systems. Conventional systems contain a septic tank and series of pipes, pits and/or trenches which both treat and disperse wastewater effluent in the existing soil. Conventional systems, also referred to as subsurface wastewater treatment systems, must be properly sited, designed and installed to provide adequate treatment of wastewater before it returns as part of the natural water cycle.

Alternative systems are all those systems which do not provide treatment of wastewater effluent in native soils, and may or may not include a standard septic tank. This broad group includes raised fill and mound systems, sand and other media filters, aerobic treatment units, and other enhanced treatment systems. They can include engineered treatment systems, such as a sand filter or mound system, or they can include manufactured treatment systems, such as aerobic treatment units or peat moss filters. All alternative systems operate under the same general principle, provide biological treatment of wastewater to an acceptable limit and disperse effluent back into the environment. For all alternative systems in NYS, the treated wastewater must be dispersed of in a subsurface manner.

The key to longevity of any system is maintenance. You would never drive your car 100,000 miles before getting an oil change, so why wait 10 years before getting your septic tank pumped. Under most normal loading conditions and depending on your system design and water usage, it is recommended to pump your septic tank every three to five years. Also, most newer systems have a component piece called an effluent filter. The filter is normally within the outlet side of the septic tank and should be rinsed off (with a garden hose back into the tank) every year or two, or as needed.

A properly designed, installed and maintained OWTS should provide wastewater treatment and disposal needs for a property for many years. And with active participation and collaboration between the WPA, contractors and the general public, this critical infrastructure will continue to meet the needs of our community for many more years to come.