Septic system. Nothing scares Texas Hill Country newbies like those two words. As a non-Texan myself, when I first moved to Lakeway, and we were house-hunting, the Realtor casually mentioned, “this house is on septic…” as we were strolling through a beautiful, lush lawn. I stopped dead in my tracks.
Did she rattle off the words ‘septic system’ or am I hallucinating?
Let’s say the visions that danced through my head were not of candy canes. Remember that altar scene in Meet The Parents when everything burst into flames? It was more like that.
But the reality in the Lake Travis area is there are thousands of homes on septic systems. The notion that septic system indicates a “cheap” house is entirely false. We have multimillion dollar lakefront estates operating on septic systems. If properly maintained, septic systems are efficient and can last for up to 30-40 years.
This isn’t a big deal when you’re buying a newer home on septic in the Lake Travis area, because you think to yourself, I probably won’t be here in 30 years. In contrast, if you’re buying an older home, the septic system is a much bigger deal.
Consider the homes that were built between 1962 and 1971 in Old Lakeway. They’ve been dealing with failing septic systems for years. There’s a great article in the Lakeway Voice written by Earl Foster, General Manager of Lakeway MUD that explains this interesting history. They’re working on a pilot program to help Lakeway residents ease their sewer system woes with a solution called ODWW (Out of District Wastewater Project).
Replacing septic is pricey
For a long time, there weren’t many options for homeowners with old septic systems.
For example, in Lakeway, those septic systems are regulated by LCRA. But regulations have changed a lot over the years.
For homeowners needing to replace failing septic systems, they’re looking at a $30k-$40k investment in a new system. Then there are monthly maintenance fees and things like extended areas for “drain fields…”
Wait, what’s a drain field, you ask?
Well, to keep things light and un-gross, think of it as an attractive soil absorption field.
After your septic system digests organic matter, it then separates floatable matter like oil, grease, and other things that aren’t organic. That neat stuff goes on a little journey from your septic tank into a bunch of fun tubes – like a waterslide. The tubes are the perforated pipes buried underground, and it’s their job to release the effluent into the soil slowly.
Wait, what’s effluent, you ask?
Effluent is wastewater or sewage. To paint a prettier picture, think of it as an icky liquid that happily leaves a human-made infrastructure to get recycled. Like a little trip to the salon to get beautified. But seriously, it’s poop.
Back to drain fields…
The drain field serves many purposes, but one that you might already know about, even if you don’t live on septic, is this is what you don’t want to get oversaturated with liquid.
When drain fields get overloaded, that’s what can cause the altar scene as mentioned above. Everything stops working, and sewage gets pushed up into the yard or worse, back out of the very things that caught them in the first place – toilets and sinks.
Circling back to the cost
We all understand the importance of septic systems and how much we don’t want them to malfunction. But even with optimal maintenance plans, things go wrong.
If you happen to be one of the 1,230 homeowners in Old Lakeway, you may not get a cheap remedy for your old system, but you will have options.
Within the next few years, if ODWW stays on track, Phases I and II will be completed, leaving residents with some relief and less stressful flushes.
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