This page contains answers to the questions homeowners have about their STEP system and the HOA. If there are things you don't understand or you have a general STEP system question not addressed here, please email any of the STEP Association Board Members.

Q: What is a STEP system and who is responsible for it? A: STEP stands for Septic Tank Effluent Pump. Our STEP system has two main parts; the homeowner managed components residing on each member’s property and the HOA managed components—those components beginning at the shutoff valve near the edge of the homeowner’s property out to the mainline and all of the infrastructure used to pre-treat/convey wastewater to the Gig Harbor wastewater treatment plant.

Q: What does my STEP system include? A: Each home in Division 12 has a STEP system consisting of 3 tanks, a pump, a controller box with an alarm and light (located near the tanks), a line and perhaps an inline backflow preventer installed on the homeowner’s side of the shutoff valve that runs to the main sewer line in the street. Once your wastewater leaves the house, it flows into the first tank. There, solids separate and begin the decomposition process. The liquid component flows to the next the next tank and stays there until the volume reaches a level and triggers your pump (in the third tank) to empty the contents in the second tank into the main sewer line running down the street.

Q: What does the STEP HOA system include? A: The HOA manages the sewer pipes, shutoff valves, and a chlorination facility where chlorine is injected into the wastewater. Chlorine injection pre-treats our wastewater to keep wastewater induced pipe corrosion in check as it flows to the City of Gig Harbor Wastewater Treatment Plant. This infrastructure is the focus of the HOA Reserve Funds in the event we need to replace aging equipment and infrastructure.

Q: Do I have responsibilities for my septic system?
A:
As with any component of your house, your septic system needs to be maintained to operate properly and to keep costs down. See the Division 12 STEP Homeowner’s Responsibility and Best Practices Checklist located in the System Maintenance section in the Homeowner Area of this website.


Q
: How can I maintain my system to keep my costs and my sewer bill costs down? A: You have 2 areas that affect your direct costs—Frequency of solids tank pumping, and leaking faucets and fixtures in your house. To keep your solids tank pumping to a minimum, limit garbage disposal use (some jurisdictions do not even allow them to be installed in houses) and do not flush hygiene products or wipes. Leaking fixtures affect your water and electric bills. Leaking equipment adds costs more quickly than expected and should be corrected. Indirect costs (our sewer bills) affect you and the entire community. Leaking house equipment, infiltration and inflow of irrigation and rainwater through cracked and/or leaking tank lids or faulty underground pipe joints can allow hundreds of gallons of water to enter your system and therefore the overall system. The City charges the HOA for each gallon of wastewater flowing to the treatment plant. Infiltration and inflow is a problem we need to correct as soon as it is discovered to keep all costs down. Lastly, you need to understand where your equipment is located, e.g., shutoff valve, vaults and controller box, and how they operate. Keeping your shutoff valve box, system lids, and controller box open/exposed and accessible is your responsibility. Aside from being a best practice, knowing the locations and having access will save you time and expense in the event an operational issue occurs.

Q: What should I do if I have wastewater surfacing, have a shutoff valve issue or notice a leak in the system? A: Surfacing wastewater at the riser lid could be from a failed pump or plugged filter as discussed elsewhere. Other surfacing wastewater might indicate a different issue. You should call a Division 12 STEP Association Board member and alert them to the problem. Please try them all until you get a person. Work on any shutoff valve or system issue requires coordination with others in the community as portions of the system must be shut down.

Q: Where does our wastewater go to be treated? A: We have an agreement with the City of Gig Harbor to treat our wastewater in their facility. As a part of our written agreement, Division 12 must manage our infrastructure and treat our wastewater to reduce hydrogen sulfide (H2S) concentrations.

Q: Why does the City of Gig Harbor care about wastewater hydrogen sulfide concentrations? A: Hydrogen sulfide results when sewage breaks down. It is toxic, corrosive to plumbing and concrete structures and as such, undesirable. Our Hydrogen Sulfide Control Program consists of ongoing management of our treatment facility/equipment where we inject chlorine, in the form of household bleach, into our wastewater.

Q: What is infiltration and inflow? A: Infiltration and inflow (I&I) is a term describing a condition when rainwater, irrigation water, or groundwater, enters the sewage handling system. I&I results in higher than expected flows from a household or our community system. It also results in higher wastewater treatment costs to our community and the individuals. Diluted wastewater is harder for the City of Gig Harbor to treat effectively and they required that we manage it if there is a problem.

Q: Some homeowners have had infiltration problems. What was done to correct them? A: Cracked riser/tank lids were replaced, some risers had uneven edges (due to installation issues) trued -up so up so the lids and lid gaskets could seal, and joints between the risers and the tanks in some cases were leaking due to failed epoxy. These failed joints were either re-epoxied or an inert impermeable clay (Bentonite) was packed around the joint to seal it. All tank lids need to be left uncovered (no dirt or plantings) therefore visible and the gaskets of the lids need to be intact. Water should be diverted from risers and not be allowed to pool around the lid areas. This limits potential flow into the tanks via the riser lids.

Q: How are infiltration and inflow problems detected? A: As a part of our I&I management program, the HOA Board watches the sewer bills for unexpected seasonal spikes and conducts system inspections to determine integrity. A few of the systems have flow meters installed to compare actual flows to expected estimated/expected flows from those systems. Higher than expected flows indicate I&I and require further evaluation and correction.

Q: My riser lid is cracked and I want to replace it. Where can I get a replacement lid? A: The Service Providers are one source of replacement components. A search of the web will also identify sources.

Q: Can landscape plantings and tree roots damage my septic system?
A:
Landscaping can obscure or cover your septic tank lids and make servicing more costly and difficult. It is your responsibility to keep your septic tank lids uncovered and accessible. Tree roots can grow into your system over time and damage components just as they can crack and or shift driveways, sidewalks and foundations. Tree roots growing toward your system should be cut and depending on the species of tree, it may be best to remove them.



Q: Should homeowners use RID-X brand or other enzymes or septic tank additives to help reduce solids in their system? A: The Canterwood STEP HOA contacted Northwest Cascade and asked their opinion on using RID-X or any other such products in our system. Their answer was; No, They should not be used. These products kill bacteria and it is the bacteria that break down solids in your tank.

Q: Do I need to have my tanks pumped like I did when I had a typical septic system? If so, how often does it need to be pumped and who should I call to perform the work? A: The STEP system works just like typical septic systems. The difference is that our liquids are pumped to the City sewer where the typical septic system flows or is pumped to a drain field in your yard. The solids still need to be pumped from your tank just like they do in a typical septic system. Solids pumping frequency depends on the amount of use, how many people you have exercising the system, what you are putting down your garbage disposal and whether hygiene products or wipes are flushed. As a general rule the system should be pumped every 3 to 5 years. Pumpers can be found on the Service Providers under the Home Owners page.


Q: Does Pierce County require reports when I have my septic tank pumped or septic system serviced?
A:
Yes, when your septic tank is pumped. No, when your septic system is merely inspected or repaired. Pierce County Environmental Health Code Chapter 2 section 43A requires septic pumpers to report when they transport sewage within the county, which would be the case after pumping your tank. There is a $53 county fee for this reporting. Aside from this, the county has no other fees or any jurisdictional requirements over STEP systems. Inspections or repairs do not require the full RSS (Report of System Status) reporting and associated fees as with traditional septic systems. Service providers should not charge any county fees for inspection or repairs and if they do, homeowners can register a complaint at https://eco.tpchd.org/#/subm5/1.



Q: I am away and am contacted about a septic alarm at my house—what should I do?
A:
You should ask someone: security, a neighbor, friend or HOA leadership to silence the alarm at the control box, look at the septic tank covers for any irregularities and get back to you with their observations. The alarm may have gone off for any number of reasons--See Alarm FAQ below. You have a couple of options at this point—wait until you return home to further assess and manage the situation or call a service provider (several are listed on this web site). A service provider may need access to your house to fully assess and correct (if needed) the situation.


Q: My STEP System Alarm is going off, what do I do? A: There are several situations that can cause your pump alarm to sound. These include:
1) Your pump has been shut off inadvertently or the breaker has tripped
2) The power was recently restored to your home and the tank is full
3) Your pump controller or pump have failed
4) It's raining hard and the pump is unable to keep up with the water coming in (an issue that needs correction as noted above)
5) There is a pipe blockage which does not allow your pump to empty the tank

Note: Before you call anyone make sure that the current situation wasn't caused by a tripped breaker, the shut-off switch, or a recently powered up pump. In the case of 1), 2) or 4) above, the alarm will be going off because the pump has not caught up from a power outage or there may be so much water coming into the system that the pump is unable to keep up with the inflow. Before calling a service provider after checking the power, we recommend you wait for 30 to 60 minutes to see if the alarm stops. If it continues to sound, then it's likely you have a faulty pump or pump control module or a blocked line to the road. To have your system serviced, go to the Home Owners page then to Service Providers and select a provider or go to the web where you will find additional companies to service your system.

Q: I am selling my property. What are the requirements for Septic/STEP system inspection or service?
A:
This question requires a two-part answer that addresses requirements of the regulating agencies/organizations and what may be required by those involved in the sales transaction.
Neither Pierce County nor the Division 12 STEP HOA requires any action related to your Septic/STEP system prior to sale of your property. Note there is often confusion on this point from service providers/pumpers and real estate agents as STEP system requirements are different than conventional septic systems. Pierce County does not regulate STEP systems in any way and therefore the County inspection RSS (Report of System Status) process required for conventional systems does not apply. The Division 12 STEP HOA has no inspection or service requirements for the sale of a home.
Sellers, buyers and/or lending institutions may determine/stipulate any factors they choose to require as a condition of sale. Sellers may have their septic tank pumped and a system evaluation completed as a maintenance bonus or to pre-emptively address potential buyer concerns. Buyers may place conditions on any aspect of a sale they choose and lending institutions may require inspections or conditions that must be met for financing to be approved.

Q: Can wipes, paper towels or other hygiene products be flushed?
A: It is never a good practice to dispose of hygiene or other products by flushing them. While many products say they are flushable, you run the significant risk of plugging your sewer lines. Also they are likely not biodegradable and flushing fills your tank, shortening the maintenance life of your system. As a best practice, these items should never be flushed down the toilet.