Electrical conductivity of a failed septic system soil absorption field

Brad D. Lee, Byron J. Jenkinson, James A. Doolittle, Richard S. Taylor, J. Wes Tuttle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Locating existing septic systems and determining the extent of soil contamination after septic system failure can be destructive, time consuming, and a nuisance to homeowners. The objective of this study was to determine the effectiveness of noninvasive electromagnetic induction (EMI) for locating a failed septic system in fine-textured glacial-till-derived soils. Components of a failed septic system were located with a push probe, georeferenced with a theodolite, and surveyed with a dual receiver EMI sensor (DUALEM-2) in December 2001 (wet soil moisture condition) and July 2002 (dry soil moisture condition). Three transects located perpendicular to the soil absorption field trenches were sampled to a depth of 1.2 m and used to ground reference the EMI survey. Near-surface (1-m depth) apparent conductivity (ECa) was significantly correlated to unweighted average electrical conductivity from soil saturated paste extracts (ECsat; r = 0.79). The ECa below the soil absorption field was higher than the surrounding native soil under both dry and wet soil moisture conditions. Individual soil absorption trenches had a higher ECa than background ECa under both soil moisture conditions. A higher ECa pattern that was apparent in December 2001 associated with discharge of wastewater at shallow depths was not evident in July 2002 after the system had been abandoned for 6 mo. While more research is warranted, results from this study suggest that electromagnetic induction is a promising technique to identify the location of septic system components, failed septic systems, and their associated effluent plumes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)757-763
Number of pages7
JournalVadose Zone Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2006

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors wish to gratefully acknowledge the financial support from the Indonesian Ministry of Education through the University of Indonesia.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science


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