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Wastewater plays havoc with ranch’s ecosystem

Mike Drummond, Columnist
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

My knowledge of household plumbing, specifically bathroom plumbing, is encapsulated in its entirety in the following paragraph.

Aim carefully while doing what males do with the seat up, then lower the seat again. After flushing, if the water keeps running, jiggle the handle.

These modest rules have seen me safely through decades of daily water closetry.



For the longest time, the self-contained household waste septic system here at Clear Creek Ranch oozed along unnoticed. We employ a version of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” philosophy espoused by our nation’s former premiere shoveller of ruminant solid wastes.

Then one day our commodal unit required two – and then three or four – flushes where one flush had previously sufficed.




This waste of wastewater was wreaking havoc with the ranch ecosystem, causing the water table to plummet and giving me the form of carpal tunnel syndrome associated with chronic slot machine players.

“We need to do something,” my wife said.

My many years immersed in the interpretation of inter-spousal linguistics led me to conclude (correctly) that the WE in her declaration included both of us. But while WE agreed to the basic call to action, it now fell exclusively to ME to execute the minor details, i.e., restoring our household to singular flushness.

I lifted the lid on the water tank and stared knowingly at the apparatus: tubes, levers, tiny chains, bulbous gizmos and, of course, water. This is the same knowing stare I use whenever the truck won’t start and I raise the hood. Tubes, wires, gizmos – to me, except for the water, the guts of my toilet tank look about the same as what’s under the hood of my truck.

Then I performed what tent revivalists would call “a laying on of hands.” I touched everything, hoping my otherwise talentless fingers would magically summon powers that actually fix mechanical things.

I grabbed the plunger from the closet, grasped it firmly, and plunged. The water that didn’t splash on my pants went down as the laws of physics intended. I flushed the flusher. Water swirled sluggishly counterclockwise.

If this toilet was in Australia, I thought, the water would have swirled sluggishly clockwise. More important, the whole thing would be some Aussie’s problem, not mine.

Figuring the problem was a little farther down the line, I drove into town and got a 50-foot “snake” from the rental yard I like to call Cheers – since everybody knows my name and my ranch maintenance war stories.

One crude, smelly plumbing angioplasty later, my wife reported from upwind that the commode was still in multiple-flushing mode. Perhaps the septic tank itself was full.

Sucking a cesspool dry is beyond even my delusional do-it-myself dreams. We called in a professional, the Septic-Sucking Guy. After a seance-like ceremony, he located the buried tank, excavated it, pumped it dry, and wanted to shake hands with us.

The problem was not fixed. I was considering a leach line bypass when I realized the water was flowing unobstructed into an empty tank. The problem was somewhere upstream.

I lifted the lid and was about to repeat my toilet tank ritual when my wife noticed the water level was about 2 inches below the high water mark inside the tank.

“What if we adjust this little bulby-floaty thing so more water stays in the tank?” she asked. We did. It worked. She takes over the diagnostic chores on the truck tomorrow.

Mike Drummond is a Nevada County writer whose column appears on Tuesday. You can write him in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945; or e-mail him at miked@theunion.com.


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