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Heavy rains overwhelming sewers, septic systems

When raw sewage and stormwater overflowed and dumped into Port Washington Narrows and Sinclair Inlet on Dec. 22, the outgoing tide helped Dyes Inlet avert the foul contamination. The rains kept pouring, though, and the following evening the watershed was not as lucky the second time around when 75,000 gallons of combined sewer overflow ended up in the salt water.

Tides carried some of that spill into Dyes Inlet’s shellfish growing area and the state closed it to harvesting. The Kitsap County Health District extended its no-contact health advisory as well, said health adviser Shawn Ultican.

The heavy rainfall has filled up the pipes, which in the city of Bremerton are combined for sewage and stormwater and only recently are being separated, explained Ultican. When the pipes are overloaded and cannot handle the liquid waste they transport into the treatment plants, they spill over into the bay.

“This kind of a problem is decreasing in frequency and also in severity, because of all the work Bremerton has been doing,” Ultican said.

The steady rain of late has managed to overwhelm the system, however. The state and health district’s advisories are expected to be lifted in the first week of the new year, but that is dependent upon the amount of contamination remaining in the watersheds.

The weather forecast for the New Year’s weekend and the week beyond, however, is all wet. And that has health district officials worried about another hazard.

There are 60,000 on-site sewage systems in Kitsap County and most of those are “thankfully designed and installed to be able to handle this kind of rain,” said Keith Grellner, assistant director of On-Site Sewage and Environmental Health.

There are, however, septic systems with leaks or other problems that remain unnoticed until overwhelming amounts of water is dumped into the soil.

If homeowners’ septic tank or drain field is already hiding defects, “all that extra water from this prolonged rainfall will overwhelm their system,” Grellner said.

The health district has been fielding calls lately regarding septic systems’ alarms going off.

“What we are trying to get people to think about is that a time of long or heavy rain is enough to push (already troubled systems) over the edge to where the system fails,” Grellner said.

Adding the extra company — relatives and friends visiting for the holidays — many households increase their water use at this time of year, compounding the problem, he added.

The health district released the following tips Wednesday for preventing on-site sewage system problems in the times of extreme wet weather:

 Minimize water use in the home. Stay well below your sewage system’s maximum volume capacity, normally 120 gallons of water use per bedroom per day.

 Spread water use throughout the day and week to “meter” water flow to your drain field. Don’t flood your system with multiple uses all at once or all in one day. One example is to shower in the morning, wash clothes midday, wash dishes in the evening, and limit clothes washing to only one or two loads per day.

 Identify and repair all leaky plumbing fixtures. A running toilet or a leaky faucet can discharge tens or hundreds of gallons of water a day to your drainfield.

 Identify and repair all leaky sewage system tanks, risers, etc.

 Divert all surface waters and downspouts away from your sewage system.

 Inspect and clean septic tank effluent filters yearly.

 Have a Health District-certified septic pumper inspect your septic tank once every three to five years, and pump it when needed.

In the case of leaks or other trouble-signs, homeowners should call their operation or maintenance contractor to come in and check the on-site sewage system. A list of local contractors is available at www.kitsapcountyhealth.com/environmenta_health/onsite/onsite_index.htm and additional information can be obtained by phone from the health district’s Environmental Health Division at (360) 337-5285.

To keep up on the combined sewer overflows that deemed Dyes Inlet and other watersheds a health hazard at contact, call the health district’s 24-hour telephone hotline at (800) 2BE-WELL or visit www.kitsapcountyhealth.com/environmenta_health/water_quality/sewagespills.htm.

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