An investigation into the role of site and soil characteristics in on-site sewage treatment
The on-site treatment of sewage is common in all rural and regional areas of the world. Due to the public health and environmental risks that these treatment systems pose, the need for adopting performance based management strategies is gaining increasing recognition. This demands the establishment of performance objectives for on-site sewage treatment and disposal which are based on stringent scientific analysis. A research project was undertaken to identify and investigate the role of influential site and soil characteristics in the treatment performance of subsurface effluent disposal areas. The treatment performances of a number of septic systems on a range of site and soil conditions were investigated together with detailed soil analysis. The changes to soil physico-chemical characteristics of the disposal area due to effluent application and its effluent renovation capacity were found to be directly related to the subsurface drainage characteristics. Significant changes to exchangeable cations and chemical parameters such as pH, electrical conductivity and cation exchange capacity (CEC) can result due to subsurface effluent application. A relationship exists between chemical parameters such as exchangeable Na and Ca:Mg ratio and CEC. A strong correlation also exists between the depth to the restrictive subsurface horizon and observed treatment performance. The study confirmed that soil chemistry can be a valuable predictive tool for evaluating the long-term performance of sewage effluent disposal systems particularly in poorly drained sites.
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