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Shining A Spotlight On Septic

Athens-Clarke County and RBC Researchers take interdisciplinary approach to septic

Writer: Cammie Caldwell

Home to more than 9,000 septic systems, Athens Clarke County’s day to day function, safety, and environmental health rely on sound septic practices. 

Dr. Krista Capps, an affiliate with the River Basin Center at the University of Georgia, is working with resource managers from Athens-Clarke County to gain a better understanding of what is happening with their septic systems. Capps is among a talented group of Athens Clark County and University of Georgia affiliates who are organizing scientific data and building relationships between different decision makers to enhance local understanding of existing water infrastructure.

“We’re trying to support resource-management decisions by gaining a better understanding of the conditions of septic systems in the county. Associating the placement of the tank on the landscape, and the age of septic systems with septic failure rates and water quality data will support county efforts in designing policies and programs to support septic maintenance,” Capps explained.

Septic systems around the globe are often neglected, and a consequence of this is lacking and outdated septic data. Capps and Athens Clarke County are bringing the topic of septic to the surface with their project, as well as increasing and organizing data on septic tank permit allocation, location, age, maintenance, and other characteristics of a tank.

“Athens Clarke County is special in the fact that they’ve actively engaged in an effort to gain a holistic understanding about on-site wastewater treatment infrastructure. They are collaborating across multiple offices within the county to associate environmental data, tank-level data, and public health records with individual tanks,” Capps said.

In the future, Capps hopes their efforts will allow resource managers to address high-risk tanks and proactively address potential problems with environmental degradation and human health. She plans to continue this collaborative research with future funding to study the relationships between areas with septic systems at high risk for failure and changes in environmental conditions.

While there is a large gap in knowledge about septic systems, Athens Clarke County has devoted time and effort into getting a grasp on their septic infrastructure and the ways in which it affects the environment. Septic tanks and sewers are complicated systems that need to be studied through multiple lenses; Capps’ work addresses that need by connecting municipal decision makers with University of Georgia researchers.

“When you engage local resource managers in scientific investigations, I think the power to address difficult environmental problems is exponentially greater because there is a direct connection between the science and decision-makers. Such collaborations generate a diversity of perspectives where everyone is engaged to try and see what we can do to make the situation better,” Capps said. 

This work has been conducted in conjunction with Dave Bloyer, PUD Compliance Coordinator with Athens-Clarke County, Cheryl Shaw, Environmental Sampler at Athens-Clarke County Unified Government, and Nandita Gaur, Assistant Professor in Crop and Soil Sciences at UGA.