Storm Water Rules; if only my Septic Tank could Speak

We lived with 3 kids and had 2 medical practices in our home on the Eastbeltline SE in GR for over 25 years. There had been an old septic system and we intended to hook up to city services, but I was misled by the civil engineer supervising the reconstruction of the then new double lane divided highway, so the tank and drain field remained-right next to East Whiskey Creek and about 3 feet above the water table……

I once mentioned it to a GR city planner who said that she knew about our drainfield. She visibly wrinkled her nose and shivered at the affront. Let me aver that GR City Planning Commission was in no moral position to look down at raw sewage in those years. I hear that this unelected body has radically improved its observance of right and wrong behavior since.

The drain field was on the lawn, according to code, where grass and sun could help dissipate water. Predictably, it would freeze in the winter and then thaw in the spring, leaking small steams of septic fluid and disgusting smells onto the nearby parking lot and driveway. (BTW, East Whiskey Creek arises in Calvin College’s woods from a seep that also smells of a septic system; I know it well.)

I tried everything to get the water to drain into the soil (acting on my own, no contractor would touch it.) New gravel, reams of perforated pipe, extending the field, digging a separate drain for the washing machine, working frenziedly on weekends, and yet fermented (biologically safe but smelly) sewage continued to float to the surface.

One of our kids cited one of his teachers at City saying that weeping willows each dissipate up to 500 gallons of water daily. I planted two. These trees were well fed and sported 4 foot diameter trunks 15 years later when we sold out. But the real change happened when I dumped all of our leaves on the lawn in the bare spot between the two trees in the autumn for a few years; no more leakage. I dug down once finding at least 2 feet of mulch, loose, feathery light soil, laden with earth worms and beetles, drilled in every direction by moles. This leaf dump, established by accident, soaked up a huge amount of fluid. It was insulated from the cold in the winter so it never melted in the spring and remained metabolically active year round allowing turnover of water. I eventually recruited wood chips and more leaves from elsewhere, covering a larger area where soil was composted and into which the septic juice could percolate.

End of Problem.

My tinkering, trial and error and tincture of time worked. The  formal rules governing septic systems, well supported by research, failed.  Men with larger heads are easily mystified.

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