Montana State University

New video explains drinking water/septic system connection and care

April 13, 2009

Adam Sigler while being photographed for the water quality video.   High-Res Available

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Tel: (406) 994-4571
A new video available through Montana State University Extension explains not just how to take care of your septic system and drinking water well, but that they are part of the same water cycle.

"When people learn that their septic tank and drinking water well are part of the same water system, their heads come up and the questions start," says Adam Sigler, MSU Extension water quality associate who helped produce the video.

Once you flush the toilet, the water goes through the septic system where it is treated and then over time, re-enters the groundwater that you and your neighbor rely on for drinking water, explains Sigler. Because of that, both the septic system and the water well need to be properly installed and maintained to avoid contamination.

Sigler has worked for the past year and a half to organize and put together the high-quality DVD "Taking Care of yOur Ground Water: A homeowner's guide to well and septic systems." The DVD was produced through collaboration with industry professionals, specialists, and university faculty in North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Montana. The production, and Sigler's time and effort was funded by the USDA Northern Plains and Mountains Regional Water Program.

In the past, much of the information on well and septic systems has been handled separately, and understanding that they combine into a larger groundwater system has not always been clearly explained or understood, Sigler said.

"We wanted to make it real for viewers, so we interviewed homeowners who had problems as well as professionals," he said.

In addition to those interviews, information is also provided through 3-D graphic animations that make the system visually understandable. The video includes sections on: water system considerations for buying or building a new home, protecting the wellhead, septic systems, sampling for well water quality, interpreting water quality results, chlorinating a well and water system, water treatment options and bloopers.

The DVD can be viewed on a home DVD player, a computer or, at lower resolution via the Internet. The DVD costs $4 and is available from MSU Extension Publications Distribution Center, P.O. Box 172040, Bozeman, MT 59717, by calling (406) 994-3273 or e-mailing To view the lower quality Web version, go to the Website, click on "Educational Videos" and a menu of the DVD's sections becomes available in a small resolution appropriate for downloading.

Sigler said the quality of the DVD was only possible because he was able to work with a graduate student in MSU's Science and Natural History Filmmaking Program.

David Keto, originally of Cheyenne, Wyo., is both a student in the film program and had previously worked as a student with the MSU Extension Water Quality Program.

"It sounded like an interesting project, and there was a need for it," said Keto. In his research into the project, he said he found existing films on wells, but that none of them really illustrated the connection between wells and septic systems within the same groundwater resource.

"Part of my interest in the project was that we would be able to use animation to move through the system, which is a big help in understanding a system that is almost completely below ground," Keto said.

Keto and Sigler worked with an MSU student in architecture, Tuan Nguyen, who produced 3-D computer models which were used to produce the animations. Tuan has since returned to his native Vietnam.

Among the most basic septic system maintenance tips are that homeowners need to get the septic tank pumped regularly, conserve water and fix leaks, understand that water softeners can complicate septic system function, keep maintenance records, and not put unused medications down the drain.

Basic wellhead tips include the fact that each well should have a sanitary well cap, should have a casing that extends 12 to 18 inches above ground, should have contaminants kept away from it, should have both maintenance and water quality records, and a water sample from the well should be tested annually for water quality.

Contact: W. Adam Sigler, (406) 994-7381 or