Sewage Management

South Middleton Township's Sewage Management Program

On October 20, 1998 the Board of Supervisors adopted a new Ordinance that regulates the planning, permitting and most importantly the maintenance of on-lot sewage disposal systems within the Township. This Ordinance also requires the registration of septage haulers doing business within South Middleton Township.

All owners of property served by on-lot sewage disposal systems will be required to comply with this Ordinance. Specifically, the Ordinance does the following:

  • establishes regulations concerning the location of initial and replacement areas for individual on-lot sewage systems within the township;
  • adopts the provisions of chapters 71, 72 and 73 of title 25 of the Pennsylvania Code as the Township's regulations for the installation of and issuance of permits for individual on-lot sewage systems except as modified by this ordinance;
  • requires that permits be obtained prior to the installation of an individual on-lot sewage system for all lots within the Township regardless of the size of the lot;
  • requires maintenance of all individual on-lot and community sewage disposal systems;
  • requires that reports be made to the Township; providing for penalties and remedies for the violation of this ordinance;
  • provides procedures for the administration of the program;
  • provides that the Township shall not warrant or guarantee the functioning or maintenance of any individual on-lot sewage system installed pursuant to the terms of this ordinance; and,
  • requires septage haulers to be registered with the Township and to make reports and provide information to the Township. (Click here to see the current list of registered septic haulers.)

Existing On-lot Systems

Under the program, all existing on-lot sewage disposal systems will be inspected by the Township's Sewage Enforcement Officer (SEO). This initial inspection will be conducted within three years. The purpose of the initial inspection is to determine the type and functional status of each component of the sewage disposal system. A written report will be furnished to the owner of each property inspected, and a copy of that report shall be maintained in the municipal records.

The initial inspection may include a physical tour of the property, the taking of samples from any surface water, wells, other ground water sources, or the sampling of the contents of the sewage disposal system itself. It could also possibly involve the introduction of dye into the interior plumbing of the structure served to determine the path and ultimate destination of wastewater generated.

As stated, the program will be implemented over a three-year period. For this reason, the Township has been divided into three "districts". District 1, in which inspections will be conducted during 1999, includes all of those properties served by on-lot sewage disposal systems north of the Yellow Breeches Creek, and west of Petersburg Road. Property owners in these District should be receiving letters from the Township Sewage Enforcement Officer in January and February of 1999. The SEO will follow the letter with a telephone call to set up a time for a system inspection.

New On-lot Systems

All new development in areas that are served, or are to be served, by on-lot systems will be required follow the requirements for planning and permitting as set forth in the ordinance. The major change from the current procedures is that all lots will be required to locate two suitable areas for the sewage disposal system, a primary area and a backup area.

Registration of Septage Haulers

All septage haulers that pump and service on-lot systems in South Middleton Township are now required to register with the Township. There is no fee associated with this registration.

Record Keeping

The new Ordinance requires that accurate records be kept documenting the date that an on-lot system was serviced, who pumped the tank(s), and the site at which the septage was disposed. Copies of these records are to be sent to the Township and the property owner.


If property owners and residents would like a copy of the Ordinance, they may pick one up at the Township office. Any questions can be directed to the Township Engineer, or Vince Elbel, Township SEO.

Why Do We Need a Sewage Management Plan?

The Pennsylvania Sewage Facilities Act, Act 537, requires each municipality in the Commonwealth to prepare an "Official Plan" for sewage services for all areas within its borders. The Plan must provide the legal, administrative and financial mechanisms needed to assure the long term operation and maintenance of sewage treatment and disposal facilities within the Township.

In the past these planning efforts tended to focus on public sewer collection, conveyance and treatment facilities, and not individual on-lot sewage disposal systems. These systems were generally labeled as interim, providing the illusion that all septic systems eventually would be replaced with public sewers. Many municipalities seemed unconcerned about assuring long term maintenance of these individual on-lot sewage disposal systems.

On-lot sewage disposal systems are not interim facilities. The majority of these systems are used in the first place because of the isolation of the property they serve or because of the lack of municipal sewerage. The use of these systems in many cases has become permanent. On-lot sewage are practical for many rural areas, if they are properly designed, installed, operated and maintained. If proper requirements are not met, the system will either fail completely or function well below its capabilities. In either case, public health hazards or pollution problems will be the result.

When public health hazards or pollution problems occur, the municipal government is legally responsible to find solutions. These solutions may range from individual enforcement actions against the owners of malfunctioning on-lot systems to planning, designing and constructing municipal facilities to replace malfunctioning on-lot systems or private treatment systems. Each of the options available to municipal governments to resolve problems created by lack of attention to existing systems has drawbacks. Malfunctions due to lack of maintenance are sometimes not repairable with standard on-lot technology.

Extending municipal sewers to rural low density areas creates sewer systems with high user fees. In some cases, municipal facilities bring unwanted growth to rural areas and strain municipal resources. These solutions may be costly and unpopular with the citizens of a municipality. Without a coordinated management approach to operation and maintenance, sewage facilities plans which propose on-lot systems for long term use to serve existing homes or new land developments may create new, long term sewage problems. In addition, existing problems with on-lot systems continue unresolved.

These problems can be prevented and resolved through official sewage facilities plan updates which adequately evaluate the operation and maintenance requirements of all existing and proposed sewage facilities and establish the legal, administrative and financial mechanism to assure needed system maintenance. This sewage management approach can also be linked with system repair or replacement options to resolve existing sewage problems.

In 1992, the South Middleton Township Board of Supervisors adopted an Official Sewage Facilities Plan that proposed a Sewage Management Plan for those portions of the Township that are outside the proposed public sewer service area. Implementation of this plan is now being required by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. In October of 1998, the Board of Supervisors enacted an ordinance that establishes the Sewage Management planning, permitting and maintenance requirements for all on-lot sewage disposal systems in the South Middleton Township.

What is an On-lot Sewage System?

Unless you have recently been through the process of installing or repairing a septic system, or if you have recently moved from an urban environment, you are probably unfamiliar with the on-lot sewage system. In highly developed areas the usual method of sewage disposal is a public sewage system. The wastes from your home move through a pipe out of your house to a common sewer line and ultimately are treated at a municipal sewage treatment plant. In most cases, the treated wastewater is then discharged into a nearby creek or river. In South Middleton Township, less than 40% of the residents are served by such public sewerage facilities. The other 60% are served by on-lot sewage systems.

On-lot sewage systems are composed of two primary parts: (1) a treatment tank, and (2) an absorption area. The treatment tanks remove the settleable and floatable solids from the wastewater. The absorption area then utilizes the soil to filter and treat the remaining effluent before it reaches the water table. By removing the solids, the treatment tanks protect the absorption area from becoming clogged. Proper maintenance of the treatment tanks will prevent more costly problems with the absorption area.

Household sewage is a combination of wastewater from toilets, showers, tubs, sinks, washing machines, dishwashers, water softeners and garbage disposals. The conventional 7-8 gallon flush toilet is the largest source of wastewater in most households.

Types of On-lot Systems

Every homeowner should be aware of what type of sewage disposal system they have. The type of maintenance and care may vary depending on the type of system serving the home. The basic types of on-lot systems in South Middleton Township are: cesspool, septic tanks with seepage pit, septic tanks or aerobic tank with seepage bed, septic tanks or aerobic tank with standard trenches, septic tanks or aerobic tank with elevated sand mound.

Cesspools and Septic Tanks with Seepage Pits

Cesspools and septic tanks with seepage pits are no longer permitted for new installations or as corrective measures for malfunctioning systems. However, many older homes with systems installed prior to 1970 may have these systems presently in use. Cesspools are constructed of open-jointed walls (concrete block or stone) and open bottoms. The solids in the wastewater settle to the bottom of the cesspool, while the effluent seeps through the jointed walls and bottom. If the cesspool is not properly cared for, the sidewalls and bottom tend to plug up with solids. This may result in sewage backing up into the house or being discharged to the ground surface.

The sewage system with a septic tank and seepage pit partially reduces the clogging problems inherent in cesspools. The septic tank provides for the separation of solids from the liquid while storing the accumulated solids. The seepage pit allows the effluent from the septic tank to infiltrate into the soil. The seepage pit is constructed similarly to a cesspool, except that there is a layer of rock or aggregate placed around the concrete blocks or stone and the open bottom.

Current state regulations require better treatment of the effluent than either the cesspool or septic tank with a seepage pit can provide. These older types of systems frequently lead to the contamination of groundwater due to the improper renovation of the sewage effluent prior to reaching the water table. Current methods of sewage disposal have been designed to provide for more effective renovation of the effluent. They utilize more soil area to absorb the-effluent and provide for aerobic (oxygenated) conditions in the soil which are more efficient in treating the waste materials.

Septic Tanks

The septic tank is a watertight chamber constructed of a durable material which is not subject to corrosion or decay. Most septic tanks used in the Township have one compartment, but some are designed with two compartments. The two compartment tanks, or two single compartment tanks in series is now required and provides better settling of the solids. One of the most important components of the septic tank is the baffle. The inlet baffle forces the wastewater from the building sewer line down into the tank instead of across the surface of the tank and into the outlet pipe leading to the absorption area.

In-Ground Soil Absorption Areas

The soil absorption area receives the liquid effluent from the septic tanks and distributes it over a specific area. The effluent then filters through the soil under the pipes and is treated chemically and bacterially by the components of the soil. The size of the soil absorption area is based on the size of the house and the percolation rate of the soil. State law requires that there be at least four feet of usable soil for the effluent to percolate through before it reaches the water table.

The soil absorption area may be an in-ground seepage bed, a set of trenches, or an elevated sand mound. The type of system installed will depend on the slope of the property, the depth of usable soil and the percolation rate.

Equal distribution of the effluent is very important to the proper functioning of the system. Uneven distribution of the effluent could result on one of the areas being overloaded, leading to a failure of the system. Most trenches and in-ground bed systems utilize gravity distribution to the absorption area from the septic tanks.

Elevated Sand Mounds

The elevated sand mound system is used in areas of the Township with reduced permeability, shallow soils and poor drainage characteristics. Soils in these areas require the addition of sand above the ground to provide for adequate renovation of the sewage prior to reaching the water table. The absorption area is constructed similarly to a standard seepage bed or trench, except that the system is required to use pressure distribution and a layer of sand must be placed between the crushed stone and the natural soil cover. A soil berm is placed around the mound to protect it and to provide a suitable base for the establishment of a vegetative cover.

The mound is preceded by a dosing tank which must be equipped with an audible and visual alarm system to alert the homeowner when a pump failure occurs. It is very important that the homeowner make the necessary repairs to the pump system as soon as the problem is detected or significant damage could be done to the mound. This type of damage could result in very expensive repairs

"Down the Drain"

South Middleton Township has a limited number of videos on septic systems entitled "Down the Drain." Proper maintenance of your septic system is extremely important to keep it working properly. If you would like to borrow a copy of this 11 1/2 minute video, please contact the Township office.