Almost a quarter million people in Wake County are served by septic systems, yet these complex, underground structures often leave residents confused and concerned. Many are unsure of exactly how the systems work, but more importantly, they’re unaware that not taking care of them could end up costing them thousands and risk polluting their drinking water and our environment. That’s why Wake County is working to let septic owners know there is help available to wipe away that confusion and head off costly issues.
“Owning a septic system is great – you don’t have to pay a monthly bill for sewer service to anyone!” said Wake County Commissioner Donald Mial. “However, that freedom comes with responsibility. You’re essentially running your own utility company because you’re not connected to a larger municipal or private system. That means you must make sure it’s working properly by doing regular maintenance and you must pay for repairs. And that can be overwhelming…which is why we need people to know our Water Quality team is here to help.”
Septic systems work by burying a tank and drainage lines in the ground that collects wastewater from sinks, toilets, showers and washing machines. It then holds the solids while the liquid infiltrates through a few feet of soil, where microbes and other biological processes remove harmful bacteria. When this process isn't working, bacteria and viruses from human waste can contaminate drinking water supplies and nearby recreational water creating a public health problem.
The best tool to prevent issues before they get worse is a no-cost inspection with the Wake County Water Quality team. They conduct approximately 500 septic inspections every year. There is no charge to property owners, the site visits are conducted year round, and the resident doesn’t even need to be home at the time of the inspection. Following the visit, the septic owner is sent a detailed report via email or regular mail to review any issues or concerns.
In addition to being incredibly helpful to the homeowners, these inspections are required by state law within certain time periods depending on the type of septic system. The Water Quality team keeps track of properties with systems requiring an upcoming inspection and will mail a notice to each septic system owner to let them know that an inspector will be visiting in the coming weeks. Homeowners may be required to make special scheduling arrangements, for example, if they need to unlock a fence or remove pets from a yard near the septic.
“We appreciate the cooperation of the majority of residents in allowing inspections to take place,” said Jie Liu, Environmental Health Program Manager. “However, there are occasions staff access to property for inspection were denied. It's important to emphasize that inspections aim to identify and resolve issues helping homeowners avoid significant expenses.”
To help fix any issues identified during an inspection, Wake County offers several programs to support to lower-income, elderly and disabled residents who might not be able to afford the repairs offering up to $20,000 in grants, which do not have to be repaid.
Properly maintained septic systems can last 25 years or more without replacement, providing trouble-free and cost-effective wastewater service for our growing county.