Emergency actions


Property floods

Flooding can clog filters, damage components, and push organic matter from the septic tank into the dispersal area or cause sewage to backup into the home.

  • If there is a risk of flooding, go to the electrical panel and turn off the circuit breaker that provides power to the pumps and treatment plant. Do not turn the power back on until the risk of flooding is over.
  • If there is a risk of flooding (or flooding has already occurred), contact a ROWP Maintenance Provider. There may be specific strategies that can help protect the system and minimize repair costs. The ROWP can also provide advice to reduce risks to health and the environment.
  • After a flood, don’t re energize electrical components or start using the system unless based on the advice and direction of a ROWP. That advice may include a recommendation to involve a qualified electrician. Improper start up can cause damage to the system and health risks.

Power outage lasting more than a half-day

Many onsite systems use electrically powered pumps to send effluent to the drain field. During a power outage, any sewage or water entering the septic tank will not be dispersed to the soil dispersal system. Other powered components may include treatment devices, electronic control panels … and high level alarms, which are intended to warn of a sewage flood. Unfortunately, they won’t operate during a power outage. (Some alarms have battery back up).

If your water supply is a community system (i.e. municipal, regional district or similar) it will usually continue to provide water during a local power outage. With no power to your septic system, the septic tank can overfill and cause sewage to back up into the house.

Newer onsite sewerage systems have a reserve capacity in the pump chamber to allow limited use during a power outage or other malfunction. In general, systems constructed after May 2005 (new standards) will have a  reserve volume equivalent to at least one half of the peak design flow allowance. A typical example for a three bedroom house is a 650 L minimum reserve capacity. Check your sewerage documents.

With reduced water use during a power outage, you can continue to live comfortably with access to water for cooking, some washing, and the occasional toilet flush. But be aware of the limited reserve capacity. If you discharge more than the reserve, sewage can back up.

If your water supply is an onsite well, your potable water pump will presumably not be working either, during a power outage. Not much risk of a sewage flood. But if you supply temporary power or other means to provide water to the house, then you need to be aware of the risk. Discharge in excess of the reserve capacity can cause sewage to back up.

Since the system’s key components will not be operating, there can be problems when power is restored. In some cases, specific procedures should be followed. For example, some systems may discharge an excessively large dose to the soil dispersal system, potentially causing effluent to surface. Other concerns may include clogging of filters, flooded electrical components, re-programming control panels, etc.

  • Turn the power off to the pumps and treatment plant by tripping the circuit breaker on the panel and do not turn them on until power has been restored and no dimming or surges are evident. Power fluctuations can damage electrical components in the system.
  • Limit the use of water to essential needs only.
  • If the system has a high-level alarm installed, it may sound after the power is restored and the pump is activated, but the alarm should turn off after several minutes.
  • Contact the Maintenance Provider for advice on how to prevent or limit damage, or if the high-level alarm does not silence after several minutes.

Sewage backup

Sewage can be a health hazard. If sewage backs up into your home:

  • Stop using water.
  • Prevent wastewater from spreading further into the home, if possible. Consider using towels or other means to control the flood (while avoiding direct contact).
  • Keep children and pets away from sewage and use rubber gloves and rubber boots when in the area.
  • Contact your insurance company as soon as possible to determine if they want a restoration company to perform the cleanup. If you perform the cleanup, use bleach to disinfect the area.
  • Contact the Maintenance Provider immediately. The Maintenance Provider can advise you on safety and clean up, as well as attend the site for troubleshooting and repairs.
  • Septage pumpers can generally provide emergency pump outs to address sewage floods.

Alarm on the control panel sounds

  • Press the alarm silence button on the box.
  • Contact the Maintenance Provider. The ROWP can discuss any safety issues, and may be able to ask questions and use your observations to determine next steps. This may include coming to the site for additional trouble shooting and repairs.
  • Do not silence the alarm and ignore. The alarm is intended to warn you of a problem that may quickly become a health risk or cause expensive damage to the system.

Emergency Contacts

If sewage is flowing off a property and especially towards or into any streams, creeks, water supplies (including wells), various agencies and authorities may need to be involved. The Provincial Emergency Program (PEP) determines which agencies to involve in situations such as these. One call can inform them all.