Another problem because of Hurricane Ike is rearing its ugly head, and the majority of households it affects may not even be aware of it. People flooded from Ike that are not on city sewer and rely on a septic tank may soon experience failure of those systems when put back in use.

If salt water got into the septic system, it has killed off all micro-organisms responsible for breaking down the waste.

Typically when those systems are put back in use without being flushed out, they start to fail.

Texas Homeowners Insurance and National Flood Insurance will not pay for the damages.

Septic systems are supposed to be part of the FEMA inspections, but aren’t always being done.

According to U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, if you have no other coverage, FEMA should cover it. If it was not part of the initial inspection, homeowners should file an appeal to have inspectors return. “FEMA is considering the septic system a high priority,” said Brady. It is included in the $28,000 maximum assistance allowed.

“If a family has already received the maximum grant to restore their home to normal then septic systems need to be one of the first considerations for repair because it protects their family and others,” said Lloyd Dawson of Deweyville.

Dawson first brought the situation to the attention of The Record Newspapers. Even though he did not flood, Ike still damaged his system because of salt water spray. Dawson also had dead fish in his yard.

He is worried about the Orange County systems that are affected, but are being put back into use without being fixed. “Some homes in this area received no consideration for the septic systems or private water wells; the homeowner needs to file an appeal so they can get assistance from FEMA for the repairs. Or pay it themselves!

“It makes no sense to hook up a FEMA trailer to a home septic system that was destroyed along with the house. “When aerobic systems fail they spray the waste water that is supposed to be treated in your yard. Rain can carry this waste to the ditch. This will cause serious problems and we know the problems that can occur – cholera, typhoid and death.”

Dawson came out OK, because he took advantage of a little known change in Texas law covering insurance codes passed in 2007. The law requires insurance companies to carry a specific hazards endorsement at the cost of $1.50 per month for each $10,000 of value of adjacent property which would include the septic system under these conditions. He received a check for $3,500 to cover the cost of repairing his system and it only costs him $18 per year.

Unfortunately, most people are not aware of the availability of this endorsement.

“That beats the $2,000-$4,000 it costs to repair or replace these systems,” said Brady.

Joel Ardoin of the Orange County Health Department said the aerated systems are more affected and have a greater repair cost due to the corrosive nature of the salt water.

He indicated that standard systems will eventually rebalance themselves and grocery store additives such as Rid-X or yeast could aid in that.

According to Carl Dauterive of Bosco Industries in Bridge City, that will not be the case of systems introduced to the mud, and marsh grass entering homes along with flood waters during the storm. If you mopped or shoveled mud out of your home, that same gunk is in your septic system, entering through toilets, bathtubs and sinks, depending how deep the flooding was in the home.

Dawson said the dead microbes add to the problem, because their bodies do not decompose.

“When the mud and gunk forms in a septic tank there is no amount of grocery store additives that can restore the system to normal,” he said.

Ardoin added that homeowners will know if there’s a problem within 24 hours of reusing the system, because there will be an outside smell if the system fails.

No one could give an estimate as to how many households effected. Dauterive said he’s been working, “ … from can to can’t” since the storm to repair local systems.

Bottom line: “If you have an odor, even if you think everything is working properly, call your current maintenence provider,” said Dauterive.

Dawson said, “Carl Dauterive has done an outstanding job to restore my system to operation. He is a no-nonsense professional and I intend to keep using him in the future.”

“I didn’t realize how damaging saltwater was,” said Brady.

Just a reminder, if you have not received the $28,000 maximum from FEMA, file an appeal to have the septic system evaluated and included in your claim. Consider adding the hazards endorsement, to avoid the expense in the future.

About Penny LeLeux

Penny has worked at The Record Newspapers since 2006. A member of the editorial staff, she has "done everything but print it." Most frequently she writes entertainment reviews and human interest stories, with a little paranormal thrown in from time to time.She has been a lifelong member of the Orangefield community.