What is a Septic System?

Understand that a septic system is a cafeteria for bacteria.  Bacteria are what makes a septic system work. They break down waste, leaving water clean enough to safely percolate down into the earth. The whole system is designed to keep bacteria healthy and busy. Some live in the tank, but most do their work in the drain field.

1. All waste flows to the septic tank. The septic tank acts like a settling pond. Greases and oils float to the top. Heavier solids sink to the bottom. The main chamber on an aerobic system will have two chambers. One of the chambers is for sludge collection and other for aeration.
2. Watery waste, called “effluent,” fills most of the tank. Anaerobic bacteria begin breaking down the organic material in the effluent.

3. A layer of sludge falls to the bottom. Sludge is composed of inorganic solids and the byproducts of bacterial digestion.
4. A layer of scum floats to the top. Scum is primarily composed of fats, greases and oils.
5. A filter prevents most solids from entering the outlet pipe.

6. Effluent flows to the drain field.  The drain septic field provides a large area where bacteria can thrive and treated water can seep into the ground.
7. Holes in the drain septic field pipe allow effluent to seep into surrounding gravel.  Gravel around pipes allows water to flow into soil and oxygen to reach bacteria.
8. Aerobic bacteria in gravel and soil complete decomposition of the waste.
9. Clean water seeps down into the groundwater and aquifer.

Septic Tank Clean Out: Don’t abuse the system – A septic system that was properly designed and installed needs only occasional ‘pumping’ to remove the sludge and scum from the tank. But without knowing how does a septic tank work, you can do things that harm—or destroy—the system.

  • Waste that decomposes slowly (or not at all) gets flushed down drains. Cigarette butts, diapers and coffee grounds often cause problems.
  • If used heavily, garbage disposers can send too much solid waste into the system.
  • Lint from synthetic fibers flows from washing machines. Bacteria in the tank and drain septic field can’t break it down.
  • Household chemicals like disinfecting cleaners and antibacterial soaps kill bacteria. Most systems can handle light use of these products, but the less you use them, the better.
  • Too much wastewater over a short period of time flushes out the tank too rapidly.
  • Too much sludge reduces bacteria’s ability to break down waste. Excess sludge can also overflow into the drain field.
  • Sludge or scum plugs holes in the pipe.
  • Roots from trees and shrubs can clog and damage a drain field.
  • Compacted soil and gravel block seepage of effluent and deprive bacteria of oxygen. This is often caused by cars driving or parking on the drain field.

What is an Aerobic Treatment Unit?

Aerobic Treatment Units (ATUs) is an add-on to a traditional septic tank with a drain field and uses many of the same processes as a municipal sewage plant, but on a smaller scale. An aerobic system injects oxygen into the treatment tank. The additional oxygen increases natural bacterial activity within the system that then provides additional treatment for nutrients in the effluent. Some aerobic systems may also have a pretreatment tank and a final treatment tank including disinfection to further reduce pathogen levels.

The benefits of this system are that it can be used in homes with smaller lots, inadequate soil conditions, in areas where the water table is too high, or for homes close to a surface water body sensitive to contamination by nutrients contained in wastewater effluent. Regular life-time maintenance should be expected for ATUs.

Check out these links for more info: https://www.epa.gov/septic/types-septic-system#aerobic 

What is the difference between Aerobic vs. Anaerobic systems?

This refers to how the Bacteria work. Aerobic means involving oxygen, so anaerobic bacteria can survive without oxygen. Normally, organisms use oxygen to make energy, but these organisms have found ways to get around this. Aerobic systems are much more virulent and cause more bacterial activity. It is this bacterial activity that reduces the nitrogen and phosphates in the septic system effluent.

For more information on aerobic versus anerobic bacteria use this link: https://study.com/academy/lesson/aerobic-vs-anaerobic-bacteria-comparison-differences.html

Why is a new non-aerobic system next to water unacceptable?

Non-aerobic septic systems produce effluents with nutrient levels that are greater than the limits of what Silver Lake can tolerate. If we continue with what we have been doing, we cannot expect change for the better.

I pump my septic tank, I’m good…Right?

Unfortunately, no.  Pumping your septic tank is a good, and necessary start, but more is needed.  If the year was 1950, you would be considered a good neighbor. But, in 2020 more people have had a longer time to pollute our world. Silver Lake is not able to sustain the level of nutrients entering it and not becoming anaerobic, which means algae blooms and a lake no one wants to be in or by. The DNR is not going to allow this to happen to our lake, so we must take control of our neighborhood and our pocketbooks, and upgrade our septic systems to the modern technology available to us today.

Why do Nitrogen and Phosphate together cause problems?

Nutrient pollution is one of America’s most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems, and is caused by excess nitrogen and phosphorus in the air and water. Too much nitrogen and phosphorus in the water causes algae to grow faster than ecosystems can handle. Septic systems without Aerobic Treatment Units do not remove the nitrogen and phosphorus from the system effluent.

Check out this link: https://www.epa.gov/nutrientpollution/issue

What information is there about the Golden Township Septic Ordinance?

The Golden Township Septic District Ordinance is a system performance based regulation. It does not tell you what to install or do with your system; it does say that the effluents must meet specified levels for safe discharge into the soil and eventually into Silver Lake.  You can find the Proposed Ordinance Draft here.

Why do we need a local ordinance, why not use the state or federal guidelines?

In short, state and federal guidelines don’t protect our lakes and waters.  The State of Michigan is the only state in the union that does not have consistent limitations on septic systems. The current legislation basically says we need to have a septic system and they expect it work for the lifetime of the property. Golden Township’s ordinance exceeds the basic levels of Federal, State and County. This right to establish extra regulation is given to the township in MCL 41.181. Currently the only septic system inspection required is at installation. You can find the Proposed Ordinance Draft here.

How were the parcels selected for inclusion in the Septic District?

Proximity to open water or the water table is the basis for inclusion in the septic district. This ordinance is written to allow Golden Township to expand or contract the properties in the septic district on an annual basis, based on need for the health and safety of the public and environmental concerns. After reviewing other local ordinances, 500 feet and nearer the water became the criteria. Link to the map here

How will this Septic Ordinance approval vote take place?

A survey or poll will be conducted of the owners of the 1,907 properties selected fro the Septic District. Greater than 50% of the voters must say they agree with the new regulations.  The Golden Township Board will then formally adopt the Ordinance.

What would be a timeline for compliance with the new ordinance?

There are many conditions that must be completed before this Ordinance may put into place. Some of these items are: a survey of the people, Golden Township Board approval, hiring and training of personnel to administrator the program and finally implementation. We estimate that soonest the Ordinance can be implemented is January 2021.

Why is a sewer system bad for Silver Lake?

The proposed sewer system of 2019 had a life expectancy of 20 years and they would have to do it again and charge us again. We would be able to install 6 Advanced Treatment Systems per property for the cost of 1 sewer system. Each system is inspected every 5 years and tested to prove that is an effective system.

What can I install to help the quality of the water?

Every property is different. Proximity to open water, soil conditions, water table levels, number of people using the system, etc, so each septic system must be engineered to meet your needs. So there is no standard system that will work for all properties Find a local professional septic installer (any brand approved by District Health Department #10) and have them supply a quote for you. For example, 2 Advanced Treatment Systems (ATS), which included new septic tanks and drain fields, installed in the last 3 years cost $7,500 each.

Other things you can do to help include: Stop applying fertilizer to your lawn, use a compost pile, and support Golden Township by approving this ordinance.

What type of fertilizer should I use on my lawn so I don’t harm our lake?

All fertilizer labels have three bold numbers. The first number is the amount of nitrogen (N), the second number is the amount of phosphate (P2O5) and the third number is the amount of potash (K2O). These three numbers represent the primary nutrients (nitrogen(N) – phosphorus(P) – potassium(K)). Please use fertilizer that zero P and lower N levels. See link for more information: https://www.ncagr.gov/cyber/kidswrld/plant/label.htm

What is a Nitrogen cycle and why is it important?

Plants and animals could not live without nitrogen. It is an important part of many cells and processes such as amino acids, proteins, and even our DNA. It is also needed to make chlorophyll in plants, which plants use in photosynthesis to make their food and energy. Checkout this link for more information: https://www.ducksters.com/science/ecosystems/nitrogen_cycle.php

What is Restorative Lake Sciences and how are they helping us?

Restorative Lake Sciences is a company hired by the Silver Lake Improvement Board, chaired by Mr. L Byl. The purpose is to help our Improvement Board make the correct decisions to improve Silver Lake.
If you want to know more about RLS, click this link: https://www.restorativelakesciences.com/rls-lake-programs/

What is a Sludgehammer System? Are there any other aerobic system manufacturers?

SludgeHammer is one of a number of companies that sell wastewater treatment systems that have been approved by District Health Department #10 (HD#10) and would meet the requirements of the draft Golden Township Ordinance. 
These links are HD10 approved:

These links need HD#10 approval:

I put in a new Septic System 10 year ago, do I need to make any changes?

Technology continues to change our lives. Depending on the design of your 10 year old septic system may be fine with an addition of an Aerobic Treatment Unit.

How much will a new septic system cost me?

The total costs can be broken down into two parts:  Installation and annual costs.

Installation costs will vary for each home based on age/configuration of current septic, home size, proximity to water, and other factors. For example, a complete system for a new cottage built in 2017 was installed for $7,500.  The cottage has 2 bedrooms, a small laundry, no garbage disposal and only 1 bathroom. Obtain estimates from several installers with different technology and make your choice of how to protect Silver Lake.

There is an annual fee added to your tax bill to administer the Septic District program. Our best guess at this point in time is that it should be about $110/year.  Operating costs for an Aerobic Treatment Unit include the electricity to operate the system and possibly annually refreshing the biologic media.

Additional costs are required for inspection and certification every 5 years. Your tank must be pumped out before the inspection can be completed. There are several haulers in the area, so the pricing is competitive. The inspection itself will cost about $275 and it occurs every 5 years.

In short, this Ordinance will cost about 1/3 of the sewer cost for the same period of time.

When will everyone around the lake have to have their septic systems inspection?

All of the 1,907 systems must be inspected within 5 years. Not all of them can be completed in the first year, so we will work out in concentric rings around the lake over this 5 year period. So, if you are not close to the lake, you might be inspected in 2025 and receive your operating permit, valid until 2030.  Of course, you can upgrade your system earlier, if desired.

Who will enforce this new Golden Township Septic District Ordinance?

Golden Township will need to establish a Septic District Department and hire an Enforcement Agent qualified as a Sanitarian. This person is responsible for administering and enforcing the ordinance. Evaluators, qualified by District Health Department (HD) #10 (who may be contractors independent of HD or the township), will perform the inspection, submit and pay for sampling and submit a report to the Enforcement Agent. The owner is responsible for costs incurred by the Evaluator. HD #10 has stated that they can do the inspection for $275.

What is TIN?

TIN stands for Total Inorganic Nitrogen. A very complex explanation, please see this link: https://www.researchgate.net/post/Can_I_calculate_total_inorganic_nitrogen_TIN_in_a_freshwater_ecosystem_without_measuring_ammonia_Can_I_simply_add_nitrate_nitrite_ammonium  

What is BOD?

Biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) is the amount of dissolved oxygen needed by aerobic biological organisms to break down organic material present in a given water sample at certain temperature over a specific time period. Wikipedia

What is TSS?

Total Suspended Solids (TSS) is the dry-weight of suspended particles, that are not dissolved, in a sample of water that can be trapped by a filter that is analyzed using a filtration apparatus.

en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Total_suspended_solids

Are there other communities in the nation that have used what Golden Township Ordinance (Septic District) is proposing?

Yes Virginia, there are other lake communities who are experiencing the same types of issues as Silver Lake has.
Check-out these case studies at this link: https://www.epa.gov/septic/septic-systems-case-studies to see how they managed the issue of septic waste.
Also see this link: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-06/documents/2004_07_07_septics_septic_guidelines_factsheet.pdf for more explanation.

Other Links to find more information about septic systems and ordinances similar to the one we are creating:


What is Sandy Soil and why is it bad?

What does it mean that you have sandy soil?   A sandy soil is composed of many irregular to rounded tiny grains of sand, as opposed to the many tiny plate-like soil particles that make up a clay soil. If you imagine a glass jar filled with ping pong balls, this is what a truly sandy soil looks like under magnification. If you imagine a jar filled with poker chips, this is more how a clay soil would appear when magnified. As you can imagine there is a lot more air space between the rounded sandy soil particles and this larger amount of air under the soil surface is what gives your soil the characteristic of being well-drained. This simply means that water moves quickly through the soil and air replaces it quickly. A few bad things: Since sandy soils are made up of well…sand you will find that it doesn’t hold water or nutrients very well. Sand is composed of silica, usually quartz crystals, and these have relatively no ability to hold onto nutrients and little ability to hold on to water. Hopefully you are not gardening in pure sand, but even then there is hope. You just have to plan to use water more efficiently, and to water deeply, slow release types of fertilizer are better than liquid fertilizers, and you’ll want to spend a bit more time adding compost or other organic matter into your soil to beef it up. In these days of drought warnings and water restrictions sandy soils are getting a bad reputation, but like most bad reputations this is largely a misconception. A sandy soil has a lot of great qualities including that it is much more difficulty to compact a sandy soil, clay soils can be compacted by driving over them with lawn mowers, cars etc, and sandy soils are more resilient.