Failed Leach Field

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Joel Shaw

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Feb 16, 2020
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North Dakota
So here’s the story. I bought a brand new house in a new development in 14’. Fast forward to 17’ and my wife calls me and tells me there is water coming up around the inspection pipes for the laterals. Turns out my leach field won’t take it. I call a contractor and he comes out and says I’m not the only one who is having septic issues in the neighborhood and gives me the guys name and number who installed the septic system. He comes out and agrees to install two more laterals so now we are up to five laterals. Everything is going good til about a week ago when my daughter comes out of the bathroom saying “uh the toilets about to overflow, and there is water coming out of the wall. I spring to action and kill the water. I go outside and start popping off the caps to the inspection pipes and they are all filled with water and frozen to the top. I was able to get one cleaned and effluent came rushing out. We get the tank pumped and while we are getting it pumped the pumper starts talking about how he’s in the neighborhood all the time. So I call a different contractor about a leach field install and he asks where I live and he gets pretty irritated because of how many systems this guy has messed up and said I should call him which I’m going to but I wanted to see if there was even anyone else around who could. So the short of it is my leach field has failed twice in 5 1/2 years and I’m not the only one with this issue. My question is are there certain types of soils that just can’t handle it at all? I know we have clay. Is there anyway to fix this?


Oct 28, 2016
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Nowhere, Texas
Are septic installers licensed in your state, or locally? If so, there's the option of reporting them to the regulatory authority and possibly getting some enforcement action on the installer that way, which could include revocation of license and/or fines.

Clay is about the worst soil for septic systems; it drains very poorly. In my state (Texas), a standard septic system and lateral lines are not allowed in clay soil. The options available for systems in clay include: Evapotranspiration (ET) bed, Pumped effluent / Low-pressure dosing (LPD), Drip irrigation, Mound system, or Surface application. I will provide a brief summary of each of these types of systems for informational purposes. Again, these are the options available in my state; I don't know about other states. Every jurisdiction is different, even varying from county to county, or city to city within the same state. I do know that in northern states the frost line must also be taken into consideration so that water inside the system doesn't freeze.

- ET beds are designed in a way that allows for evaporation and transpiration of water (water goes up in to the air and plants), but they don't work in very wet areas, and I assume won't work in areas with snow cover for a significant part of the year (which doesn't occur where I live).

- Pumped effluent / low-pressure dosing uses a pump to control the amount of wastewater going out of the septic tank into the lateral lines. This allows an even dosing of water throughout a day, giving water time to drain before the next dose of water. The normal use of water in a household is not spread evenly throughout the day, which can overload the lateral lines.

- Drip irrigation uses small tubing instead of lateral lines. It requires a higher level of treatment beyond a standard septic tank, including at least some level of filtration to prevent particulate in the wastewater clogging the tubes. Drip systems are also pumped and typically use timed doses.

- Mound systems elevate the lateral lines above the natural grade of the soil inside a mound of better draining soil. These are also typically pumped.

- Surface application uses sprinklers to spray wastewater on the ground, like a lawn sprinkler. This requires higher level of treatment beyond a standard septic tank. These systems are basically a miniature wastewater treatment plant. There is a septic tank which provides primary treatment of the wastewater. Then an aerobic treatment or digestion tank providing secondary treatment. Finally, a chlorinator provides tertiary treatment by chlorinating the wastewater before it is sprayed.

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