Joetopia

Life in the country is grand, until the septic system fails

jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Not since I was a junior at Cal Poly have I lived in a house with city sewer service.

This isn’t to say home was a shotgun shack with the facilities in an outhouse — although part of that image actually was a bona fide option at one point. It’s just that for the past 25 years, we’ve lived in homes with septic systems.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of storing human waste in your yard, let me tell you, you’re missing out.

Why would you want to live a carefree life of flushing it all away without worry to some impersonal wastewater treatment plant when, instead, you can keep it cozy in your own subterranean concrete tomb — with the additional fun of having no gauge as to when, precisely, is the right time to pump?

After a certain completely indeterminate amount of time, every pull of the toilet lever is like a little game of Russian roulette.

Think of the adrenaline rush! It’s like jumping out of a plane, pulling the cord and not knowing whether the parachute will deploy, except instead of plummeting to your death, you get a pool of raw sewage bubbling up in your shower, on your lawn, wherever.

OK, it’s not quite that bad. Truth be told, living on septic is mostly hassle-free, and if you want to live in any rural location, it’s the only option.

The problem is, when the hassle arrives, like it did for us last week, it can teeter-totter between a pervasive nagging fear and the worst kind of domestic misery you can imagine.

We lived on septic systems in three different houses in Los Osos over the course of many years. Two of them were fine, but the third was literally a fill-in-the-blank show every winter.

It was built on ground level in one of the lowest spots in town, and any time it rained real hard for a few days, the earth became saturated, the septic system failed and everything backed up into the house.

We’d have to get the thing pumped almost annually, and each winter, our landlord would cut the rent by however many days we were unable to use the plumbing.

One time, he bought a little sump pump, threw it in the tank and ran a hose out over the back fence into the neighbor’s yard. No kidding.

When he decided that probably wasn’t the best option, he offered to rent a portable toilet and plop it down on the driveway. Needless to say, I wasn’t too interested in flip-flopping out to a port-a-potty in slippers and a bathrobe with the morning paper tucked under my arm.

It got to the point where I had to scope out nearby public restrooms. The library was the best.

Fortunately, for the good people of Los Osos, those days are past now that the sewer is a reality.

But for all the rest of us in the county who might not want to live in the middle of town, septic it is.

As of this writing, I’m still not sure what’s wrong with our little operation. I just know the pipes are gurgling, and when I pulled the lid to give it a look, the water was well higher than it should be, the filter to the leach field nowhere in sight.

Hopefully, it’s nothing major. Hopefully.

Fingers — and legs — crossed.

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