JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) -It's not uncommon for a house in the country or small town to have a septic tank. Some tanks don't have to be emptied for years. While some others need it done on a more regular basis.
But what do you do with a vacuum truck full of sewage?
That question has become a real issue in Region 8.
As of 4 o'clock Monday, Jonesboro City Water and Light no longer takes septic tank waste.
This leaves septic tank cleaners in a difficult spot, as well as owners of septic tanks as new regulations put the flush on wastewater.
Loyel Harris, the owner of Harris Plumbing and Septic Service, has a relatively new vacuum truck.
"There's a lot of different jobs we do with our pump truck. We do carwash pits, we do grease traps. Lot of different things you can pump."
And, after the 30th of November, the different things they pump might be the only alternatives for some septic cleaning companies.
Harris has been in the plumbing, septic tank business for more than 24 years.
Now that City Water and Light will not be accepting septic tank waste, Harris has to make a decision--park the truck or keep using it. Harris already has one truck parked for economic reasons. We stood by his newest truck, and Harris explained his dilemma.
"You know the tags actually go out tomorrow. So, I'm in another dilemma, do I spend 300 dollars for a new set of tags, or do I just say park it, and forget it."
Local septic tank cleaning companies were notified mid-October that CWL would not be taking any more loads after November 30th.
Ron Bowen, CWL Manager, says their hand has been forced by new regulations from the EPA.
"We're having new tests for very small trace amount of metals, and that's what precipitated this."
Harris says, "They're saying that the septic wastes that we're bringing in out of the public's tanks has either mercury or lead content. A household is a household, so we don't know where this is coming from. We haven't actually seen statistics that state exactly what's going on. "
Bowen says, "We've got a twelve part per trillion level of mercury on the stream standard. In our preliminary testing, we did go over that number. You just can't practically treat for a small parts per trillion metals in a large quantity of water."
Since there is no way to cost effectively filter the metals, CWL had to discontinue servicing septic trucks in order to be EPA compliant.
This decision has put a huge burden on septic tank owners and septic tank services.
Harris says all the septic companies will suffer.
The vacuum trucks can cost upwards of a hundred thousand dollars, and they need to keep them operating to pay the expenses. Harris has already put one truck aside for economic reasons.
Harris says, "It's going to be a real shutdown, and I don't know that we'll keep our truck. We can't afford to pump just minor stuff and come out."
The operators and owners of septic tanks are kind of in limbo now.
Harris said they are asking a lot of questions but not getting any really good answers.
"We have people telling us what we can't do, but nobody telling us what we can do."
We called around to all the county seats in Region 8.
None of them would take the septic trucks.
The only place we found that would accept the loads was in Memphis for about 6 cents a gallon compared to 16 dollars for a 2400 gallon load.
That cost plus the diesel and the time lost hauling back and forth could see some companies getting out of the septic business altogether.
And, just in case you are curious, it's estimated there are still thousands of septic tanks around the Jonesboro area.
This time of year is when many septic systems encounter problems due to the rainy weather. It will remain to be seen how owners will deal with their septic issues.