Well and septic staff working at a septic system installation site

If you live in a city or urban area, the municipality you live in likely ensures that your water stays clean and your wastewater is handled properly. But if you live in a more rural area without those services, wells and septic systems play an important role. Septic systems use one or more tanks and the soil to filter and treat wastewater before it goes back to the groundwater. Since drinking water in rural areas often comes from private wells that tap into the groundwater, it’s important that groundwater stays clean and healthy to drink. It’s also important to ensure wastewater doesn’t contaminate rivers and lakes.

Public Health Madison & Dane County plays an important role in making sure groundwater stays safe by inspecting wells and septic systems to ensure drinking water cleanliness.  

Well and septic services we provide

  • Sanitary permitting and well location permitting. We issue permits before septic systems can be built or modified to make sure septic systems will be installed correctly and will not create a public health hazard. We also issue well location permits before wells are built to ensure wells are protected from potential sources of groundwater contamination.

  • Soil testing. Before septic system construction, we work with homeowners and septic installation companies to test the soil. The soil test helps us determine what kind of septic system is appropriate for the area. Different kinds of soils are better than others at filtering and cleaning wastewater.
  • Inspection of septic systems and wells. We visit sites at least once to ensure a well or septic system is following all rules and regulations. Depending on how complicated the project is, we might be out several times to check in.
  • Ensuring safety of groundwater. We follow up on improperly functioning systems to prevent contamination of groundwater. 

Typical day for the team

7 am: Most members of the team start the day by returning any calls they received from the public or from contractors. This is the time when they’ll schedule time for doing soil tests, inspections, and other field work.

8 am: Soon after the day starts, our well and septic staff are on the road to start field work. The team spends a lot of their time inspecting wells and septic systems, as well as assisting with soil tests. They work with the companies installing wells and septic systems throughout the installation.

12 pm: Our staff might grab a quick lunch on the road as they’re between inspections. Because wells and septic systems are mostly in rural areas, the team is driving many miles most days—anywhere from Albion to Mazomanie to everywhere in between.

2:30 pm: Sometimes the team is out all day doing inspections, but on other days, they might make it into the office to do some paperwork. For each project, the team files a final inspection report and draws up a site plan of the septic system. These are important records that can be referred to later if the septic system needs to be replaced or construction is happening nearby at a later date.

4:30 pm: Staff begin wrapping up their day and head home. Tomorrow, they might start the day out in the field, or head into the office to return calls from the evening.  

Top tips for people with wells and septic systems

  • Know your well and septic setup. Whether you just bought your property or have been living there for a while, it’s important to know what kind of system you have and when it was built. You can look up your septic system records on our website or give us a call at (608) 242-6515.

  • Keep up with regular maintenance and testing.
    • Most septic systems require service every three years. Certain types of septic systems need service on a more frequent basis to keep filters clean or make sure mechanical systems are working correctly. You can find more advice on our website.
    • Test your well water every year for contaminants,  including coliform bacteria and nitrates.
    • You should also test if you notice any change in taste, odor or appearance, or after flooding . Visit our Drinking Water Testing page for testing information or call our lab at (608) 243-0357. We can recommend other tests depending on your well's location, age, etc.
This content is free for use with credit to the City of Madison - Public Health Madison & Dane County and a link back to the original post.