Our Blog: Pink Notes From Olson's

Frozen everything…

Just as we start to see some thawing action and think the freezing up issues are over, a new set of water problems are showing up. If your roof gutter drains go into an underground piping and discharge system, you may have to have those pipes cleared to allow the melting snow and ice flow away from your home. If your pipes are frozen at the discharge point and cannot be cleared with a shovel, call Olson’s Sewer Service for high pressure jetting service to clear the drain lines.

No running water…

A customer reported he had plenty of running water to make breakfast, but when he turned the shower on-not a drop! Many water services are freezing up this year. In many cases this is due to the extreme depth of frost in the road ways. If this happens at your house you will most likely need a professional to thaw the water service. There are generally three ways to thaw the line: steam, high pressure jetting, and using a welder to send current through the line and heat it up. Olson’s uses high pressure jetting on poly or copper water services with a 1″ or greater inside diameter. It is necessary to locate the curb stop so the water flow can be controlled.

Once your line is thawed out, the water will need to be left running in the house at stream size equal to the diameter of a pencil. This is risky business, but moving water does not freeze. If you have an onsite sewage treatment system, never leave water running non-stop into the septic tank as great damage can occur to the treatment area.

Spring is almost here!

What is better-liquid laundry soap or powdered laundry soap?

Good question about the laundry soap. Liquid soap is better than powdered. There can be sodium sulphate in powdered soap plus more chemicals due to the fillers. You don’t need to add these things to your onsite sewage treatment system! The less grit and chemicals added, the less treatment work your system has to perform.

It’s Fix a Leak Week!

In Minnesota, we have some of the cleanest public water supplies in the nation. However, Minnesota’s thirst for this precious resource is outpacing nature’s ability to replace it. It is safe to say that water conservation is more important than ever.

There are lots of ways to use less water. Start by checking your home for leaks, as a part of Fix a Leak Week (it’s this week!). Household water leaks can waste hundreds of gallons of water and can increase your water bill by over 10 percent. Here’s some more tips from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Check for leaks using the water meter

You can use your water meter to do a quick check for water leaks. First, turn off all water-using appliances, including showers, sinks, washing machines, dishwashers, automatic ice-makers, and hoses. Next, find your water meter. Most meters are located in the basement or a utility room.

To check for leaks, look for the “leak indicator.” On many meters, this is a little red or black disc. If it is spinning, you have a leak. If you have a digital meter, start by shining a flash light on the sensor to turn on the LCD panel. Then look for a small faucet icon. If the faucet is there, you have a leak. If you do not see the faucet icon, you do not have a leak.

Investigate the toilet

Another way to check for leaks is to go straight to the likely culprit–the toilet. Toilets leaks are common and waste hundreds of gallons of water each day.

Just add 2 or 3 drops of food coloring or a non-toxic dye tablet into the toilet tank.* Wait 20 minutes without flushing, and then check the bowl. If there is color in the toilet bowl, you have a leak.

Most toilet leaks are easy to fix. Watch this how-to video, which will help you identify the source of the leak and give you good tips for fixing it (dual-flush toilet owners: watch this video). Worn-out flappers are often the cause. Remove the flapper and take it to the hardware store so the staff can help you find the best replacement. If you know the make and model number of your toilet, bring that information as well. After fixing the flapper, use food coloring or a second dye tablet to see if you’ve fixed the leak.

*The MPCA is offering free toilet leak-detection tablets to Minnesota households, while supplies last. You can order your packet online, call 651-757-2999 or email leakdetection.pca@state.mn.us.

Other water-saving actions
Once you’ve fixed your leaks, you are on your way to saving even more water. You can also:
• Use the dishwasher and only run full loads.
• Turn off the water while you brush your teeth.
• Take shorter showers. Can you do 5 minutes or less per person?
• Use low-flow faucet aerators and shower heads. The WaterSense label can help you identify water-saving products.
Look for rebates and discount programs that can help you pay for water-saving upgrades. Start by asking your city, natural gas provider, and water supplier whether they have a program. Look at your bill if you are unsure who supplies your gas or water. Some programs are listed in the WaterSense rebate finder. Other Minnesota programs include:
• CenterPoint Energy offers free, low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators to its residential natural gas heating customers in Minnesota.
• The Home Energy Squad will come to eligible homes to assess and install energy-saving items (including new shower heads and aerators). You pay for the parts, but the labor is free.

National Ground Water Awareness Week is March 11-17

Minnesota Department of Health News Release

More than 1 million people residing in more than 400,000 households in Minnesota rely on private wells as their source of drinking water. While wells can provide high quality drinking water, state health officials observe that most wells are rarely tested on a regular basis for things that can make consumers of the well water sick, such as bacteria, arsenic, or nitrate.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) estimates that at any given time, as many as 25 percent of private wells in Minnesota have detectable levels of total coliform bacteria, an indication that surface contamination has entered the well or water system.

National Groundwater Awareness Week was established more than two decades ago to bring attention to the important role that groundwater plays in the health and well-being of people. Properly maintaining wells that tap into groundwater is critical for protecting personal health and the health of the resource. This year’s observance, March 11-17, is a good time for well owners to put “Test Well” on their “to-do” list, say state well management specialists.

MDH recommends that private wells be tested once a year for total coliform bacteria, an indicator of bacterial contamination. Testing for nitrate is recommended every two to three years – more often if nitrate has been detected previously in the well or if an infant under the age of six months will be consuming the water. In addition, MDH recommends that every well be tested for arsenic at least once.

Testing your well is up to you. Getting your well tested is a relatively simple process. Your local county health department may provide or arrange for testing services. Commercial (or private) laboratories providing water testing services are usually listed in the Yellow Pages under “Laboratories – Testing.” You should check to make sure the laboratory is certified to perform tests that you want. The laboratory will provide directions for collecting and submitting water samples for testing. The costs for analysis are usually in the range of $20 to $40 per test, depending on what is tested. More information on well testing can be found at: http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/wells/waterquality/test.html.

People with questions about well water contaminants – or other well related issues – can obtain advice from MDH, their local health department, or local MDH-licensed well contractors. Well specialists are available to answer questions at MDH district offices in Bemidji (218-308-2100), Duluth (218-723-4642), Fergus Falls (218-332-5150), Marshall (507-537-7151), Rochester (507-206-2700), St. Cloud (320-223-7300), and the Twin Cities (651-201-4600).

-MDH-

For more information, contact:

John Stieger

MDH Communications

651-201-4998

Michael Convery

Well Management

651-201-4586

Unexpected Warm Weather Brings Road Restrictions

This week MN DOT began posting seasonal load limit notifications, beginning with the South, Southeast, Metro, and Central frost zones.  The spring load restrictions limit the amount of weight that can be applied to roads and highways as the frost leaves the ground under the roadways. However, if you have an emergency, we can still solve the problem for you! Questions or problems-just call Olson’s In the Pink!

A Message from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency:

With little or no snow cover, Jack Frost may be nipping at your septic system

It’s beginning to look a lot like potential problems for rural septic systems this holiday season.

“It may not be such a happy new year for some households if we don’t get snow cover before temperatures really start to drop,” Dan Olson, public information officer with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), said. “Snow helps to insulate septic systems and keep them from freezing. Fortunately, temperatures across the state have remained relatively mild so far, but that could change any time.”

The University of Minnesota Onsite Sewage Treatment Program provides tips for homeowners on how to prevent septic system freeze-ups and how to deal with them should they occur:

• Place a layer of mulch eight to 12 inches thick over the pipes, tank and soil treatment system to provide extra insulation. This can be straw, leaves, hay or other loose material that will stay in place and not become compacted. This is particularly important for new systems that were installed so late in the year that vegetative cover could not be established. However, if the system is currently frozen, don’t add mulch now; it will delay thawing in the spring.

• Let the grass or native vegetation growing over the tank and soil treatment area get a little taller in the late summer and fall to provide insulation and help hold snow.

• Use water ― the warmer the better ― if you’re worried that your system is starting to freeze. Spread out your laundry schedule so you run one warm/hot load a day. Use the dishwasher and take hot baths. However, DO NOT leave water running all the time, as this will hydraulically overload the septic system.

• Going away for an extended period? Plan accordingly. Have someone use warm water in your home regularly while you are gone or have your septic tank pumped out before you leave. If a shallow tank is left full for several winter months, the sewage will become very cold and can freeze.

• Fix any leaky plumbing fixtures or appliances in your home. This will help prevent freezing problems and help your system perform better all year long.

• If you have appliances that generate very low flows, such as high-efficiency furnaces, you can put heat tape in the pipe, and have someone come by and run warm water for a while you are on vacation. Alternatively, install a small condensate pump that holds and discharges two gallons per cycle.

• Keep all vehicle, animal and human traffic off the system. This is a good rule to follow all year long as compacted snow and soils cause frost to go down deeper and faster. Pay special attention to the area between the house and the septic tank.

• Make sure all risers; inspection pipes and manholes have covers. Sealing them and adding insulation is a good idea. Insulation may be added during construction particularly if the top of the septic tank is within two feet of the surface.

• Keep an eye on your system. If any seeping or ponding occurs, contact a septic systems professional to help determine the cause and remedy.

• Add more insulation to your system. This could include replacing pipe with insulated pipe, installing expanded foam panels over the septic tank, or adding more soil cover.

A common cause of freeze-ups are pipes that are not installed with the proper slant or that have settled, resulting in dips in the line. Where a dip or flat spot occurs, sewage can collect and freeze. Pump lines can develop a dip right next to or above the septic tank as a result of soil backfilled during tank installation settling.

If your septic system freezes, call a septic system professional.

Other methods used to fix a freezing problem include adding heat tape and tank heaters. Cameras can be sent down pipes to determine where freezing is occurring. If the soil treatment system is full of ice, or there is evidence of leaking, skip trying to thaw the lines leading to the treatment area as it cannot accept liquid until the area thaws in spring.

If it’s not feasible to correct a problem, the only option is using the septic tank as a holding tank until the system thaws naturally. Have a pumper empty the tank when it starts to fill up. In this situation, reduce water use by limiting the number of toilet flushes, taking short showers, and using the dishwasher at full capacity.

There are some things you should NEVER do to try to fix a frozen system:

•DO NOT introduce antifreeze, salt or a septic system additive into the system.

•DO NOT pump sewage onto the ground surface.

•DO NOT start a fire over the system to attempt to thaw it out.

•DO NOT run water continually to try to thaw the system. This can overload the system.

Getting In The Pink!

The fall colors are here and PINK is part of the picture. It’s not too late to have your septic tanks serviced. Olson’s is scheduling cleaning for sewage treatment systems through October, November, and into December-weather permitting. We pump out tanks all year round, but it is best to have maintenance and inspections completed before the Twin Cities weather creates much frost in the ground. Protect your sewage treatment area from freezing by mulching the area with straw before the real cold temperatures are upon us!