Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Managing breakup worries

Snow-heavy roof near Hatcher Pass
We’re all resigned to the joys of a typical Alaska breakup – the road spray that makes your car look like you’ve visited Jim Creek a month early, the endless sand your family embeds in the carpet, the huge potholes swimming up from below to gnaw at your axles.
As if that weren’t enough, this year we got a near-record amount of snow.  The pile in many front yards has topped 10 feet. The layers on roofs near Hatcher Pass look like quilt batting. We’re worried about ice dams, flooded basements, backed-up septics.
Many of us are so worried, we’re asking our government for guidance. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is holding a roundtable called “When the Waters Rise” from 10-11 a.m. Thursday in room 107, Gorsuch Commons at UAA. You can find the webcast here.
On the bright side, forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say the heavy snowfall has insulated the ground. Forecaster Jim Coe told the Alaska Dispatch that the frost depth is only 13 inches, compared to 40 on an average year.
That means ground thaw may not take as long as it usually does, which is good news for runoff worries.  A thawed yard means less standing water searching for another outlet, such as your basement or septic tank.
Angela Champ, who co-owns both Full Moon and Polar Pumper Septic services, said that keeping your drain field shoveled off is a great way to avoid septic back-up.
“Hopefully your drain field isn’t in the lowest part of your yard,” Champ said. “If it is, you might consider raising it by spreading some soil over it in the summer. You really don’t want water sitting on your drain field.”
That, and ensuring your water usage is spread out during spring thaw, are both good preventative back-up measures.  Space out  and shorten your showers. Time laundry loads several days apart.  Turn off the faucet while brushing teeth.
“You should do that in normal times, but during a break-up like this one with so much runoff, those things are really important,” Champ said, adding that calling in a company for a preventative, break-up tank pump might not work.  Long-term maintenance really determines the health of a septic field.
 “Maintaining your septic system is like changing the oil in your car,” she said. “If you don’t maintain it, it won’t last as long for you.”

--Melodie Wright

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