Keep our waters clean
Treat your septic system with care

Out of sight, out of mind. That’s what many people think after the toilet flushes and the sink drains. But that wastewater may be seen again if the household’s septic system fails. Some very simple measures can prevent septic system failure and protect Maine’s lakes, streams and groundwater from pollution.

Most Septic systems, even with maintenance, will work effectively only for an average of 15-25 years.

Septic System Care (PDF)

  • A “starter” is not needed for bacterial action to begin in a septic tank. In fact, additives can sometimes do harm.
    Send all sewage into the septic tank. Don’t run laundry waste directly into the drain field as soap or detergent scum will plug the soil pores.
  • Normal amounts of household detergents, bleaches, or other household chemicals can be used and won’t stop the bacterial action. Do not use excessive amounts.
  • Never dump cleaning water for latex paint brushes or cans into the sewer.
  • Never deposit coffee grounds, cooking fats, wet-strength towels, disposable diapers, facial tissues, feminine napkins, cigarette butts and other non-decomposable materials into the sewer. These materials will not decompose and will fill the septic system and could cause a failure. Make sure to tell your house guests or renters of these limitations.
  • Do not dump grease down the drain. Throw it out with the garbage.
  • If you have a septic system, it is not recommended that you use a garbage disposal. If you believe you must use one, you will likely need to have your septic tank pumped more frequently. Even with this, garbage disposals can still damage and shorten the life of a system
  • If you use a water softener, call your professional septic system company for a brochure on use of such systems.
  • Use a good quality toilet tissue that breaks up easily when wet. Put a hand full of toilet tissue in a fruit jar half full of water. Shake the jar and if the tissue breaks up easily, the product is suitable for the septic tank. High wet-strength tissues are not suitable.

Cleaning Your Septic Tank

  • Pump your tank every 2-3 years for year-round residences and every 3-5 years for seasonal residences. Keep a written record.
  • Summer/Seasonal usage – depends on how many people are using the residence. Even if you use your system briefly each year, it needs regular maintenance. However, excessive discharge on a daily basis into a septic system which is in excess of the systems ability to absorb the discharge can cause a system to fail even if you are there only during the summer. See “Tank Capacity” below.
  • Get the tank pumped at the beginning of the season. The point is that if you get it pumped at the end of the season and are not using it year round, there may not be enough water / sewage in the system when you leave and the water could freeze causing system damage.
  • Keep vegetation cut down over top of the septic system/leach field. Vegetation, such as small trees and shrubs, can have deep root systems that can get into your septic drainage system and cause a septic field failure. A good septic field needs sunlight.
  • Older septic systems will fail (pipe and stone systems). If you believe that your system is not performing the way it should or you have a septic smell, call a professional septic system company. They can dig test pits over the leach field to check if the system is working properly.

Tank Capacity

Each septic system has a certain capacity. The leach field can only absorb a determined amount of liquid each day. Excessive discharge into the tank can cause the system to fail. Things that can be done to limit discharge are:

  • Low flow shower heads – highly recommended.
  • Fix leaking faucets and checking toilets for float valves that are leaking. A cup of water leaking out of a toilet can add up to 90 gallons a day!
  • A water meter can cost $50 to $100 plus installation. You can then determine how many gallons are going in to your system each day.
  • New front load washing machines use a fraction of water compared to an old top loader.
  • Spread out how often you do laundry. Do smaller loads several times a week rather than many loads on one day.
  • Large number of house guest or renters can over stress a system. Advise your guests that you are on a septic system. Ask for their cooperation in limiting their shower time or frequency of showers, running dishwashers only when they are full, not letting water run continually in the sink when doing dishes and other common sense water limiting ideas.
  • Toilets – The largest discharge into the septic system usually comes from toilets (40%).
  • The most effective way to reduce the sewage flow from a house is to reduce the toilet wastes. Some older toilets use 5 to 6 gallons per flush. Some “low flow” toilets use only 3.5 gallons per flush or less. However, low flow toilets many times take two flushes to get the sewage down. That’s 7 gallons. Toilets are now available which have been redesigned and will do a good job with one gallon or less per flush. This can reduce sewage flows from a home by one third. Ask an expert.
  • Many Mainers are well aware of the old adage “If its yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down”. It is not very logical to use 3 to 5 gallons of water to flush down less than a pint of urine.

Following a few simple rules, like not using too much water and not depositing materials in the septic tank that bacteria can’t decompose, should help to make a septic system trouble-free for many years. But don’t forget, the septic system does need to be cleaned out when too many solids have built up. Septic systems need tender loving care too.

Browntail Moth Info

Primer on Browntail Moth

Of a million species of insects so far identified only about one percent are occasionally pests for humans, and only one thousand species considered seriously damaging. But when one species arrives uninvited and starts to impact summertime enjoyment, all that is irrelevant. The innocent sounding browntail moth is such an insect. Found last summer on quite a few properties in the watershed, the caterpillar form of the insect is causing problems and not just because they can defoliate trees in yards and forests alike. The caterpillars could be called armed and dangerous because they are covered with irritating and toxic hairs that break off and persist even after the caterpillars are gone. Depending on a person’s sensitivity to exposure to the hairs, and to the numbers of insects present, they can cause a rash similar to poison ivy and even respiratory problems due to inhalation.

This insect is native to Europe and other places but was accidentally introduced to Massachusetts in 1897. For a history of the Browntail Moth in New England go here. Recently it has once again expanded its territory away from coastal areas in southern Maine (where they have been found historically for years as well as on Cape Cod). Much of Knox, Lincoln and Waldo counties have infestations in places. Removing winter nests where they can be reached is the place to start because each web can hold up to 400 caterpillars!

The most important thing right now is to read about these pests and to be aware so that you can learn to recognize them and how to do an inspection of your property before spring. The best resource is from the Maine Department of Ag, Conservation and Forestry. If you read nothing else, read this:

At this time of year, the caterpillars that hatched last fall are overwintering in nests found at the tips of tree branches. It seems unfair but many of the trees and shrubs we favor in our area are the very trees that they choose to eat, a feast seemingly specifically chosen for this pest (or vice versa): oak, apple, crabapple, shadbush, rose, including rugosa rose. But as soon as the tree starts to leaf out, the caterpillars emerge and start eating, returning to their nests at night. They are tiny in the early spring and it takes a magnifying glass to see they have two rows of white dots along their sides and two bright red dots on their back. Once they reach a certain size, these identifying are more easily seen as they go on the march, looking for new food sources that permit them to grow to about 1 1/2 inches in length. Their foliage eating habit that can weaken ornamental trees and shrubs, but also on taller forest trees, as distressing as it is, is not the most concerning problem.

Many people develop skin rashes similar to poison ivy to exposure to the hairs of the caterpillars. Depending on the individual’s sensitivity, the rash can be severe and some people can develop breathing issues due to inhaling the hairs. Besides breaking off, the hairs are shed by the caterpillars as they form their cocoons before coming adult moths and also are found later in the season, in July, as covers for the female moth’s egg masses and in the web nests of the caterpillars. And the hairs not only are found everywhere where the caterpillars are found – on the ground, in the lawn, on outdoor furniture, in the air on windy days – but can persist up to three years. Activities such as raking leaves, mowing the lawn, other gardening activities stir up the hairs and perpetuate the problem even though it is worst in the summer months.

What can be done? Right now, the number one top suggestion is to check your property for the winter nests.  Some pictures of infestations from around the watershed are here.  They are noticeable and their placement at the tips of tree branches is practically diagnostic. On ornamental trees or shorter forest trees, these nests can and should be cut down and immediately soaked in soapy water before disposal. Wearing gloves is mandatory. Here is a short video on to prune and dispose of the nests:

Physical removal of nests in taller trees is harder. Licensed arborists can climb trees or use bucket trucks to get at nests at the tops of tall trees.  Obviously this method is labor intensive, it may be feasible for a few trees but a major infestation on a number of properties may be problematic.  A list of some arborists in the area that are willing to remove nests is found here.  The time to do this is in March and April, before the leaves come out.

Chemical pesticide control of the growing caterpillars in the watershed areas are limited to few products that need to be applied by licensed and experienced arborists.  There are also no spray setbacks close to the shores of our lakes, ponds, and streams.  Unfortunately spraying can also affect non-target and possibly beneficial insects. Injecting trees with systemic insecticides can avoid issues of drifting spray but may also kill the important caterpillars and other insects that are necessary bird food for all the garden and forest birds such as chickadees, woodpeckers, warblers and for their offspring. Birds do not eat the browntail caterpillars because they too don’t like the hairs. The adult moths are strongly attracted to light which may eventually lead to a control method as may parasitic wasps or flies. Licensed pesticide applicators can be found here.

The nests are not large, and removing as many as possible before the caterpillars start emerging is the most effective control for home owners right now. Every nest taken down foils the potential for between 25 and 400 inch and half leaf-eating machines lining the branches of trees and blanketing the surface of any structure as they do before they form cocoons, both horrifying sights, believe me. Ten little nests, 4,000 possible caterpillars! You will be glad you did.

HISTORY of the Megunticook Watershed Association 

On September 23, 1969, after filing papers with the Knox County Registry of Deeds, the Megunticook Lake Association became a legal entity. This was after an organizational meeting on August 27, 1969 that was held at the Legion Hall in Camden.

The official filing with the Maine Secretary of State gave the following as the purposes of this new Association: “The purposes of said corporation are scientific, educational and agricultural, and to improve and preserve the environment and the quality of Megunticook Lake and Norton Pond in Knox County and Waldo County in the State of Maine, and to conserve the natural resources in the watershed of said Norton Pond and Megunticook Lake so that such natural resources may be devoted to the scientific and social use of the residents of said watershed; to test the waters of said Pond and Lake, to discourage pollution thereof, to disseminate information about safety in boating and other water sports and to circulate printed information about the laws of Maine concerning sanitation and safety. To acquire and hold real estate for the purpose of preserving same in its natural state, maintaining the same for nature study.”

The original trustees/directors signing the state certificate were: A. H. Chatfield, Jr., E. Clifford Ladd, Carlton F. Dougherty, Bernard Frankel, A. Margaret Bok, Lester Meyerhoff, Charles W. Chatfield, Arthur E. Spellissy and Stillman F. Kelley. Carlton Dougherty remains on the Board of Directors today, dedicating more than 40 years to the watershed

MWA has been testing water clarity in Megunticook Lake and Norton Pond since 1975 for the Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program.

Les Fleck resigned as Lake Warden in 1984 after 10 years of service.

Ken Bailey hired as part-time Lake Warden in the fall of 1984.

A few years after forming as the Megunticook Lake Association, the organization changed its name in 1985 to the Megunticook Watershed Association realizing that along with Megunticook Lake, the Megunticook River, Norton Pond, Moody Pond and the entire 32-square-mile watershed were of equal importance and should be included in all activities.

The Megunticook Watershed Association purchased (1984-85) the two outlet dams at the lake and donated them, plus a $20,000 endowment fund, to the Town of Camden.

Ken Bailey was hired as full-time Executive Director/Lake Warden April 4, 2004 after many years in a part-time position with MWA..

A Nonpoint Source Pollution Survey was conducted from 2005-2006.

The membership was surveyed in the spring of 2010 in an effort to assist the MWA Board of Directors plan for the long-range future of the Association.

MWA ended is 2010-2011 fiscal years with 317 members.

Watercraft inspections for milfoil and other invasive aquatic plants have been conducted since 2001. In recent years, over 1,000 watercraft have been inspected annually.

Our Volunteer Partners in Monitoring, water tests for bacteria have been conducted at multiple locations on the lake, pond and river for over 20 years.