Climate Change Is Coming for Our Toilets. Here’s How We Can Stop It.
About one in five households in the United States depends on a septic system to eliminate waste (that’s 60 million households, for those of you who don’t like fractions). Septic systems not only dispose of our waste, they also protect public health, preserve precious water resources, and provide long-term peace of mind for city planners and plumbers alike. But that septic-associated security could go down the drain, according to information in a U.N. report on oceans published last week.
While the report is not specifically about your bathroom, per se, it shows how a stealthy threat — sea-level rise — could make it more difficult for people with septic systems to flush their toilets. A brief primer on septic systems, which are common in rural areas: The stuff in your toilet goes into an underground tank, where it breaks down (I’m gagging) and gets drained out into a leach field (gross) that’s at least 20 feet from your house. In order to function properly, those drainage fields have to be relatively dry.
Rising groundwater levels (a problem that accompanies sea-level rise) are soaking the fields, making it more difficult for our waste to break down and get absorbed properly. Rising groundwater also affects the soil’s ability to filter out harmful bacteria, which poses a public safety risk. And to make matters worse, increased rainfall, another climate change-related perk, is exacerbating the issue.
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