Tips for Extending the Life of your Septic System

As we move forward with our Out of District Wastewater (ODWW) Project, we are trying to accommodate as many of our customers as possible who notify us of their failing septic system. Although we do have an early connection option, we are trying to reserve it for our customers who have exhausted all other options. Unfortunately, the majority of the 1,000 homes in the Project’s area have septic systems that can be well beyond their life expectancy of 25 to 30 years. Fortunately, concrete septic tanks, which are found in this area, can last 40 years to nearly indefinitely with proper maintenance. A conventional septic drainfield has a varying life expectancy based on the function of the soil percolation rate, drainfield size, and usage level.

Aerial of a septic system install. Image credit: Countryside Construction Inc.

Septic System Regulations in Lakeway

Since September 1971, Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) has regulated the installation and operation of on-site sewage facilities (OSSFs), or septic systems, within a 2,200-foot zone around the upper Highland Lakes and in a 2,000-foot zone around Lake Travis. For information on their rules, permitting, fees, and more, contact their OSSF Department:

Website: www.lcra.org/water/permits-contracts/on-site-sewage/Pages/default.aspx
Email: ossf@lcra.org
Phone: 512-578-3216 option 1

Components of a Septic System

A typical septic system has four main components: a pipe from the home, a septic tank, a drainfield (also known as a leachfield), and the soil. The septic tank is a watertight box, typically buried beneath the ground, usually made of concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene with an inlet and outlet pipe. Wastewater flows from the home to the septic tank through the sewer pipe. Sludge (solids) and scum (oil and grease) stay in the tank while the treated wastewater (known as effluent) is released. For homes where the drainfield is located upslope from the septic tank, a pump tank is added to move effluent out of the septic tank and into the drainfield, otherwise, the effluent flows using gravity into a series of perforated pipes buried in the drainfield. Slowly, the effluent is released into the soil where harmful coliform bacteria, viruses, and nutrients are naturally removed, then it percolates through the soil, ultimately discharging to groundwater. View an animated, interactive model of how a household septic system works (created by the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority).

Click image to navigate an interactive model of how a septic system works. Credit: Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority

Signs that your Septic System is Failing

  • Wastewater backing up into household drains.
  • Bright green, spongy grass on the drainfield, especially during dry weather.
  • Pooling water or muddy soil around your septic system.
  • A strong odor around the septic tank and/or drainfield.

The most common cause of a failed system is overloading it. This can be caused by the consecutive use of high-volume activities such as laundry, showering, and running the dishwasher. Space out their usage as well as follow water conservation efforts year round.

Repair Options

  • If your drainfield is flooded, your first step should be to drastically reduce water use in the house until you notice it is dry at the surface. Pumping the septic tank may be an option, however should be considered after the area above it is dry, otherwise it could cause the tank to float out of the ground, damaging the inlet and outlet pipes. Consult a professional septic service provider for advice.
  • Septic cleaning products are available to break up blockages in the pipes. Tree roots are a common blockage in older septic systems. Root killers, available at local hardware stores, can be used routinely to help prevent their spread.
  • A pump tank is controlled by either control floats or timer controls. It also requires electricity to operate so limit water use if there is a power outage. If the capacity in the tank is too high or too low or a malfunction occurs, most systems are equipped with a red alert alarm (located on the top of the control panel) to warn the homeowner. Limit water use through a couple of pump cycles (10-15 hours) to see if the alarm goes out on its own. If the red light goes out, the system is working properly. If not, continue to limit water use and consult a professional septic service provider for advice.
  • Your septic system is considered a part of your home, so may be covered by your homeowners insurance policy, however any damage caused as a result of lack of maintenance or neglect may not be covered.

Putting in a New Septic System

LCRA has new rules in place for septic systems. This means that an old septic tank may not be able to be repaired – it may need to be replaced with often an even larger area for a drainfield. The average cost of a new septic system in the Lakeway area is $30k to $40k. A new system may also be required for home remodels that include the addition of a bathroom or bedroom.


A Homeowner’s Guide to Septic Systems (publication). Source: EPA

Next Steps

If you are an LMUD customer experiencing an issue with any component of your septic system, we ask that you please contact us to alert us of the status of your system, however seek recommendations from a professional septic company for options to extend its life. To get started on a diagnosis of the status of your system, we suggest:

Know Your System

Where is your septic tank located? Where is your drain field? Where are the inlet and outlet connections? Where are the portholes or manholes that provide access to the inside of the tank? Some of this information may be obtained by a professional septic service provider, however for a layout of your system, you should contact the LCRA’s OSSF Department. Your home’s “as-built” drawings may also show its location.

Understand Proper Maintenance

The most common cause of a failed system is overloading it. This can be caused by the consecutive use of high-volume activities such as laundry, showering, and running the dishwasher. Space out their usage as well as follow water conservation efforts year round. This is particularly important during heavy rain, which can quickly overwhelm a drainfield on its own.

Also common are blockages, which can cause pipes to be clogged and the drainfield to overflow. To prevent this, avoid flushing anything besides the three Ps (pee, poop, and toilet paper). “Flushable” wipes and FOG (fats, oils, grease) clog pipes so should be thrown in the trash. Avoid the use of a garbage disposal which can improperly break down debris.

Septic tanks require a delicate balance of natural bacteria to break down the waste that enters it. Harsh chemicals, such as antifreeze, solvents, herbicides or pesticides, can disrupt this balance. Avoid pouring them down drains.

Follow a Pumping Schedule

Conventional anaerobic septic systems need to have the septic tank pumped out on a routine basis to remove the solids and keep the system from backing up. A professional septic service provider can suggest how often to have this done, based on your unique system and usage habits (ranging from every two to five years). If you have a pump tank, have it inspected regularly as well.

Avoid the Use of Your Drain Field

Do not compact the soil over the drainfield by driving or operating equipment in the area. It can reduce the drainfield’s ability to treat wastewater and lead to system failure. The area should be covered by turf grass only.

For information on being added to our ODWW Project early connection list or for more information on the Project, please contact:

Stephanie Threinen,
LMUD Public Information Liaison
(512) 261-6222 ext. 175

Additional sources of information on septic systems: