This study evaluated the effectiveness of soils with different texture and depth to treat fecal bacteria eluted from a house-hold septic effluent. The assessments were accomplished by leaching undisturbed soil monoliths of 30, 45, and 60 cm thickness and 25 cm in diameter, representing the four different textural groups and hydraulic loadings recommended by the Kentucky Health Department, with domestic wastewater effluent collected regularly from a house-hold septic system. Eluent concentrations were monitored daily over a 15 day period for fecal coliform and fecal streptococci concentrations. The results of the study indicate an alarming frequency of failure to comply with United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) criteria for depth to groundwater, when using a 30 cm vertical separation distance between the bottom of the drain-field and a limiting soil interface. The treatment performance was especially poor in coarse-textured soils. Although biomat development over time is expected to improve treatment, the high influent levels of fecal bacteria pose great concerns for surface and groundwater contamination. Fine-textured soils generally provided better treatment efficiency and more consistent compliance with EPA standards. Treatment efficiency and compliance usually improved with increasing soil depth, with the 60 cm thickness providing the most consistent performance and compliance with maximum discharge limit (MDL) requirements. The findings of this study document a general inadequacy of the 30 cm vertical separation distance to provide effective treatment of septic effluents in Kentucky soils, particularly in coarse-textured soils. Considering that increasing the soil depth thickness may be impractical in many marginal soils, complementary or alternative treatment technologies should be adopted to improve treatment efficiency and prevent further deterioration of the quality of water resources.

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