Routt County homeowners can improve or avoid flooding this spring with these tips

A bus drives through standing water on a low area along Routt County Road 44 in 2017. This winter’s snowpack has public officials looking out for potential issues as the snow in our area begins to melt, and water levels increase.
John F. Russell

The Routt County Department of Environmental Health is hoping to lessen the impacts of potential flooding this spring by sounding the alarm about septic systems in low-lying areas before the snow turns into runoff.

“With the amount of snowpack that we have, the chances for flooding are greater,” Environmental Health Director Scott Cowman said. “That’s what prompted us to put this notice together and get this information out. It’s probably not a bad thing to put out every year in the spring, but certainly this year, given the amount of snowpack, I think the chances for flooding are greater.”

Flooding is expected this spring in valley bottom areas near streams and rivers, particularly along the Yampa River. When spring runoff floods homes near the river, or in low-lying areas where water may collect, septic systems can be compromised.

In addition to having the system back up in the home, flooding can cause long-term damage to the system, creating the need for repair or replacement and in the worst case scenario result in environmental and water-quality damage if untreated wastewater is released into the environment.

Cowman is hoping the information at will reduce the impacts if a flood occurs, as it walks homeowners through the steps that need to be taken if the system floods or the ground becomes overly saturated.

He said homeowners should avoid pumping the systems after flooding because it is only a temporary solution and could cause the tank to float out of the ground and may damage the inlet and outlet. The best option is to plug all drains in the basement and drastically reduce water use until the flood waters recede and the ground and the absorption area have dried. At that point, the owner will want to pump the septic system as soon as possible after the flood. Be sure to pump both the tank and lift station to remove silt and debris that may have washed into the system.

He also said homeowners should be aware of where the absorption field is located and avoid driving over the area with heavy equipment that could compact the soil and further damage the system.  

Household wastewater is flushed or washed through the exit pipe into the septic tank where heavy solids sink to the bottom and break down to form a sludge layer. Lighter floatable solids, such as grease, oils, and fats, collect at the top of the liquid in the tank to form a scum layer. The septic system also includes an absorption area where water passes through. This area can also be impacted by flood water, and precautions need to be taken until the water level around the home drops below that of the absorption field.  

When spring runoff floods homes near the river or in low-lying areas it can cause issues with the septic system and wells that provide drinking water.

The notice addresses what to do after a flood including whether to pump your tank, how long to rest the system after flood waters recede and what needs to be done to the system after a flood and offers suggestions from experts about what to do if flooding occurs.

“You should know where your septic system is, and if you don’t you can call our office and we can get you on the information on where it is because we have those permits,” Cowman said. “It’s about understanding the ground that you’re living on and where your septic system is and the knowing that it’s wet.”

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