rss Blog

How to Abandon a Septic System

abandoned septic.jpeg

There’s a number of situations in which a septic tank/system might need to be abandoned: replacing it with a new system, connecting to a city sewer, or abandoning a property altogether. Septic tanks, cesspools, leaching pits, dry wells, and everything related must be properly cared for and not simply left as they are. Most important is to ensure that access for future discharge from the system will never be possible.

Many states or localities will have specific requirements for procedures on abandoning a septic system. For example, you can take a look at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s guidance on abandoning a sub-surface sewage treatment system, where several state codes are referenced.

According to Sara Heger, septic educator at the University of Minnesota, there are three common practices for what to do with the empty tank:

  1. Remove and dispose of the tank at a landfill.
  2. Crush the tank entirely and backfill the hole. Water has to be able to drain through it, so it must be completely broken.
  3. Fill the tank with a material like concrete that won’t let liquids flow through. There must be no risk of collapse in this scenario.

Basically, you never want to have an abandoned septic tank lying out exposed like in the photo above! Before codes and regulations for old septic systems came into place, it was common practice to simply leave the tanks where they were and forget about them. But this is quite dangerous. Old homes that were hooked into a sewer system long after construction should be inspected for old septic systems when sold.

An improperly abandoned septic system poses several possible risks. They could collapse into sinkholes, spread disease if untreated waste comes into contact with groundwater, or release toxic gasses like methane and hydrogen sulfide.

Be on the lookout for these signs of an abandoned septic system that is leaking, from B&B Pumping in Fort Worth: excessive weed growth on a lawn or algae on a pond, a perpetually soggy patch of lawn, an area of lawn that smells like human waste, unstable and sinking land, or pipes physically protruding from the ground.

Building over the top of even a properly abandoned septic tank isn’t a good idea, since sinking problems or leaked pollution could still occur if the area isn’t handled with care.

Can A Septic Tank Float?


As crazy as it might sound, the answer is yes: Septic tanks can float out of the ground. Any buried structure will float when empty if it weighs less than the water that displaces it. That means that when installing any sort of septic system in an area with a high water table and/or that is prone to flooding, you must conduct buoyancy tests and determine if the system will remain stable.

Dr. Sara Heger, instructor at the University of Minnesota’s Onsite Sewage Treatment Program, has broken down the calculation to determine tank stability at Onsite Installer. The basic steps are below, but Dr. Heger’s walk-through explains each step in detail and shows example calculations. You will need to know the individual weights of the following: the empty tank, the minimum amount of water and media in the tank, the soil directly above the tank, and the maximum volume of water that is displaced.

Here’s the calculation:

  1. Calculate the weight of water displaced by the tank (buoyant force B).
  2. Calculate or look up the weight of the tank (WT).
  3. Calculate the weight of the water in the tank (WW).
  4. Calculate the weight of the soil cover (WS).
  5. Evaluation of net forces.

So if your calculations indicate that the tank will float, what do you do then? Thankfully, there are anti-floatation measures that can be added to the system design plans. Perhaps the most basic is to use concrete, which weighs 85 pounds per cubic foot and can be added into the design in a few different ways. Some fiberglass tanks may also have an anti-floatation lip built onto them.

It’s important to consider that any anti-floatation measure will increase stress forces on the tank, so the tanks must be able to withstand the extra force. Read more from Dr. Heger at Onsite Installer on anti-floatation.

If you ever do need to deal with a flooded septic system, whether the tank has emerged from the ground or not, refer here:

Water and Wastewater Operations & Maintenance

Blog Post Template - A-Z Operation and Maintenance.png

The operation and maintenance (O&M) category encompasses the broad spectrum of services required to assure the built environment will perform the functions for which a facility was designed and constructed. Operation and maintenance typically includes the day-to-day activities necessary for the system to perform its intended function.

We have 2,786 resources (and counting) on Operation and Maintenance in our Documents Database that provide valuable information on this topic. You can search for documents that explain how utilities can maintain economic and social health for the community, compliance tips for small, mechanical wastewater treatment plants, knowledge retention spreadsheet for small water systems, and many other useful guides that will help you to deliver safe and clean water to utility customers. 

To access the wealth of knowledge on O&M within our database just select "CATEGORY" in the dropdown then choose "Operation & Maintenance." Once you make that selection, a second dropdown will appear where you can choose "HOST," “TYPE,” or “STATE” to narrow the search even further. If you have a specific search term in mind, use the “Keyword Filter” search bar on the right side of the screen.

This is part of our A-Z for Operators series.

RCAP's A Drop of Knowledge: Recent Article Roundup #1

Blog Post Template - RCAP's Drop of Knowledge.png

A Drop of Knowledge is a monthly digital article from Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP.) The articles focus on topics like wastewater, drinking water, policy, and infrastructure in rural America. It contains how-to’s, tips, and guidance from more than 300 technical assistance providers (TAPs) across the country. Some recent featured articles are linked below:

Looking for something else? Find more articles and subscribe to A Drop of Knowledge.

RCAP’s Free Monthly Articles for Water and Wastewater Operators

Rural Home Blog Post.png

A Drop of Knowledge is a monthly digital article from Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP.) The articles focus on topics like infrastructure, capacity building, and economic development in rural America. It contains how-to’s, tips, and guidance from more than 300 technical assistance providers (TAPs) across the country. Some recent featured articles are linked below:

Looking for something else? Find more articles and subscribe to A Drop of Knowledge.

Additional Free Test Prep Training Resources for Operators


Below is a list of free test prep training resources to supplement our previous articles: Free Test Prep Training Resources for Operators, Operator Math Part 3: Continuous Education, and Featured Video: Water Exam Success. These resources can help prospective water and wastewater operators prepare for certification exams. 

Operator Licensing Requirements Across the United States

The 125-page report outlines licensing requirements for water and wastewater operators across all 50 states to determine opportunities for and barriers to cross-training. 

Drinking Water C & D Level Certification Review

This 434-page document contains a collection of 22 presentations that will help operators prepare for their C & D level certification exams. Topics discussed include: how to improve your exam score; filtration; water treatment; the Safe Drinking Water Act; Florida drinking water rules; water sources; well requirements for PWSs; storage systems; chlorination and disinfection; disinfection and disinfection byproducts; water treatment plant maintenance; taste, odor, aeration, iron removal, and stabilization; sedimentation; demineralization; coagulation & flocculation; corrosion control; water softening; water transmission & distribution; basic chemistry; laboratory methods; math; and treatment plant safety.

Need-to-Know Criteria Wastewater Treatment Operator Class I 

This 11-page factsheet was developed to assist operators in understanding the content that will be covered in (a previous version of) ABC’s Standardized Wastewater Treatment Operator Class I exam. A methodical and comprehensive international investigation was conducted to determine the most significant job tasks performed by wastewater treatment operators. The content covered on the exam represents the job tasks identified through this research as essential operator competencies and is not limited to the practices of your system/facility. 

Regulatory Resources

Handbook for Water Distribution System Operators

This 39-page handbook contains useful information on approved training courses, related regulations, and associations that assist in training or technical programs.

Drinking Water Training System

This U.S EPA website provides training on the federal requirements of the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations. 

Chemistry Resources

ABC Formula/Conversion Table for Water Treatment, Distribution and Laboratory Exams

This 4-page document can be used as a study tool to help water operators prepare for certification exams.

ABC Formula/Conversion Table for Wastewater Treatment, Industrial, Collection and Laboratory Exams

This 5-page document lists formula, conversion factors, and abbreviations needed to prepare for the Wastewater Treatment, Industrial, Collection and Laboratory Exams.

Water Treatment and Distribution Operator Chemistry Reference Sheet

This 3-page factsheet includes frequently used formulas and conversions for water treatment and distribution operators.

Math Resources

Absolution Water - Conversions

This 12-minute video offers a tutorial on math conversions noting special tips for finding the correct answer without any mistakes.

Water Treatment and Distribution Operator Math Reference Sheet: Frequently used formulas and conversions

This 15-page factsheet contains frequently used formulas and conversions for water treatment and distribution operators.


Additional Resources for Management of Dissolved Oxygen in Activated Sludge Plants


Below is a list of free resources on the management of dissolved oxygen in activated sludge plants to supplement our previous article Managing Dissolved Oxygen in Activated Sludge Plants

Troubleshooting Noncompliance at Small Wastewater Treatment Plants

This is a 171-page presentation from the Ohio EPA on Troubleshooting Noncompliance at Small Wastewater Treatment Plants that features information on activated sludge process control.  

Operating Tools and Measurement Techniques for Troubleshooting Activated Sludge Systems

This 29-slide presentation discusses tools that can be used to troubleshoot activated sludge systems. The presentation will introduce some simple tools, talk about some that are a little more advanced, and show operators that this is not the realm of only the laboratory or the engineer.

Activated Sludge Process Control Manual

This is a 106-page Activated Sludge Training Manual that was prepared by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality with information on operating the activated sludge process, including nutrient removal, and troubleshooting. 

Holistic Aeration and Chemical Optimization Saves Big Money from 1 MGD to 600 MGD

This 36-slide presentation outlines automated dissolved oxygen control, which includes reduced operator labor/attention, improved process stability, and energy savings; automated biomass control; and automated chemical feed control for P removal, which includes a 95 percent reduction in chemical usage. 

Troubleshooting Activated Sludge Processes

This 32-slide presentation discusses how to troubleshoot activated sludge processes and covers process types & kinetics, influent monitoring, process monitoring, and control and nitrification.

Convert Activated Sludge to BPR

This 48-slide presentation discusses improving Bio-P performance by getting to know the system, initial assessment, expanding a zone for increased BPR performance, learning D.O. control, and more.

Efficient Nutrient Removal under Low Dissolved Oxygen Concentrations

This 25-slide presentation discusses the City of St. Petersburg Southwest WRF, City of Rochester WWTF, and more. 

Activated Sludge- It’s About Efficiency and Optimization

This 167-page compilation of eight presentations discusses the history and application of activated sludge, aeration systems, secondary clarifier design and operation, aeration efficiency studies, dissolved oxygen control, blower technologies, advancements in control systems for WWTPs, and conversion to MBR.

Doom & Bloom: Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) in Wastewater Treatment

This website from the Environmental Finance Center Network provides an overview of the function of biochemical oxygen demand in wastewater treatment plants. 

A Tale of Two Filaments: BNR System Recovery from a Major Process Upset

This 7-page article discusses the Glendale Wastewater Treatment Plant in Lakeland, Florida that had a power outage that caused the dissolved oxygen concentrations in the aeration basins to drop very low. 

These resources and more can be found in our document library.

A Day in the Life of a Water Operator


While the specific details of each day can differ, the general tasks remain largely the same for water and wastewater operators in the United States. Below is a list of videos showcasing the different daily experiences of water and wastewater operators across the country. 

Whether you share these on social media to help inform the public or use the examples to inspire your own video, telling the story of what you do every day can help inspire future generations of water industry professionals.

The Benefits of Drones in the Water Industry


Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), also known as drones, have slowly made their way into various parts of society, including the water sector. They offer a more accessible and affordable way for water utility managers to survey their systems. They also offer plant managers the ability to collect detailed information about the status of their utility through aerial photos and videos. 

The greatest benefits of drones are that they are highly efficient while still being relatively inexpensive. Drones can be used to collect data ranging from updating processes to designing additions, as well as building changes, maintenance, and demolition. 

Some water companies in France are even using drones to inspect sewer operations. They are also being used in New Zealand as part of a water quality monitoring projectDrones are being used in Ireland to survey problems before they arise and catch unlawful dumping that would eventually become issues for wastewater treatment workers to handle. Drones have proven to be especially helpful in the wastewater industry by increasing worker safety, reducing energy consumption, streamlining planning, improving insight and education, and efficiently collecting samples.

Any current or future users of drones should know that entities utilizing drones are now required to comply with new federal laws enacted as part of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. Despite this hurdle, drones provide a great opportunity to help upgrade and improve an otherwise outdated water industry. Overall, drones can be a great tool to help water utilities of the past move more quickly into the future. 

Free Compliance Resources for the Revised Total Coliform Rule


Our 2020 free webinar series highlighted compliance-related resources on a number of topics. This recording contains information and free resources on the Revised Total Coliform Rule. Listed below are all the resources mentioned in the video.

Revised Total Coliform Rule: A Quick Reference Guide

This is a 3-page reference guide that provides an overview of the Revised Total Coliform Rule.

Total Coliform Rule: A Quick Reference Guide

This is a 2-page reference guide that provides an overview of the Total Coliform Rule. 

Coliform Bacteria and Drinking Water

This is a 2-page question and answer document from the Washington State Department of Health about coliform bacteria in drinking water. 

Revised Total Coliform Rule (RTCR) Placards

This is a collection of six e-fillable placards on the requirements of the Revised Total Coliform Rule (RTCR) developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Repeat Monitoring Requirements For Small Systems

This is a reference guide for repeat monitoring that can be used to identify if there were any violations and what actions to take.

Vermont DEC Pocket Sampling Guide to RTCR

This is a small pocket guide with information on complying with the RTCR sampling requirements. 

Flowchart for Triggered Source Water Monitoring

This is a flowchart developed by the New Jersey DEP for public water systems on quarterly and monthly schedules. 

Revised Total Coliform Rule: Routine Positive Sample Flowchart (For Community Water Supplies)

This is a routine positive sample flowchart from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy on what to do when a system triggers a TC+ routine sample. 

Revised Total Coliform Rule (RTCR) Sample Siting Plan with Template Manual

This is an 11-page manual that provides information on how to choose proper sampling locations and instructions on completing the template while complying with the RTCR.

Guidance for Developing a Coliform Sample Siting Plan

This is a 14-page guidance document from the New Jersey DEP that expands on each component of the siting plan. 

RTCR Sample Plan Checklist for Water Systems

This is a 1-page checklist that can be used to ensure a successful sample plan. 

Revised Total Coliform (RTCR): Bacteriological Sample Siting Plan (SSP) Tutorial

This is a 12-minute training video that provides concise details on the steps to complete a plan.

Revised Total Coliform Rule (RTCR) Sampling Plan: Form Training
This is a 12-minute video from the Vermont DEC providing instructions on completing a plan.

AWWA Coliform Sampling Video
This is a 3-minute video on how to properly collect water samples.

Coliform Sampling Best Practices

This is a 6-minute video on proper sample collection techniques and tips to reduce false-positive results.

Revised Total Coliform Assessment Factsheet

This is a 2-page factsheet providing the guidelines for when a Level 1 or 2 assessment is triggered.

Revised Total Coliform Rule Assessment and Compliance Training

This 137-page manual was designed by the Pennsylvania DEP to train individuals to perform a Level 1 assessment and explain the process of completing a Level 2 assessment if necessary.

Revised Total Coliform Rule Assessments and Corrective Actions Guidance Manual

This is a 164-page manual that covers assessment and corrective action requirements under the RTCR.

Level 1 Site Assessment Under RTCR
This video covers the steps for completing an assessment while providing additional tips and advice about the process. 

Revised Total Coliform Rule Level 2 Assessment Training

This is a 90-page training manual designed to prepare individuals to perform the Level 2 assessment that includes a template for the assessment and a checklist to prepare an assessment.

Public Notification Instructions and Templates for the Revised Total Coliform Rule (RTCR)

This is a 38-page document that includes instructions as well as templates for reporting RTCR violations.

Revised Total Coliform Rule (RTCR) Level 1 Assessments and Start-up Procedures - Iowa DNR

This is a 4-minute video walking through the start-up procedures checklist and level 1 assessment form.

Seasonal Public Water System Startup Instruction

This is a 22-minute video providing instructions to complete the start-up checklist and certification form.

The Revised Total Coliform Rule A Guide for Small Public Water Systems

This is a 98-page guidance manual for systems serving less than 1,000 customers on how to comply with the RTCR. 

Revised Total Coliform Rule for Drinking Water

This is a series of 6 online presentations designed to help systems learn more about the RTCR requirements.

Revised Total Coliform Rule (RTCR)

This is a 110-slide presentation from the Vermont DEC that provides a comprehensive background of the RTCR. 

Revised Total Coliform Rule(RTCR) Frequently Asked Questions

This is a 6-page list of frequently asked questions developed by the New Jersey DEP about the RTCR. 

Revised Total Coliform Rule – Chapter 3 Question Index

This is a 21-page list of questions and answers from chapter 3 of the Illinois EPA from Sample Collector’s Handbook. 

Revised Total Coliform Rule (RTCR)

This is an ASDWA webpage that allows states to share plans and materials for RTCR implementation.


Please note that we are not able to provide certificates for watching a webinar recording.