Wolfe Island has neither mains water nor mains sewage. This means that householders have to deal with whatever water supply and septic systems came with the property they bought or inherited. Inevitably there is a lot wrong with both and neither will confirm to the contemporary standards set by the local public health authority. So, when renovations or a new build is planned, the first thing that you have to do is have the property and the current water and septic systems inspected with the equally inevitable outcome that one or the other or both will have to be replaced entirely.
First, water. Most people on the island who are close enough to the lake have a shore line, which takes water directly from the lake. The big problem with those is that if the water levels in the lake drop enough, you can find the end of your supply pipe above water level and you’ll be sucking in air. For those further from the lake, the best option is a drilled well, which takes water up from deep in the bedrock. That’s fine if your bedrock doesn’t contain anything too nasty, however the island’s water seems to have very large amounts of iron and sulphur. There’s one other conventional option, and one of the oldest: a a dug well. This is what we have right now and it is just about the worst of both worlds: prone to running dry if you aren’t very careful, and full of not only excess sulphur and iron, but also all the run-off from farms and old neighbouring septic systems. We stopped drinking it after we first had it tested without the UV filtering and saw just how much E-Coli bacteria and ‘fecal coliforms’ (i.e. poo) it contained. We still use the filtered water for washing and bathing. But we’d really not have to use this at all.
There is, of course, another possibility: rainwater. Some people, including our neighbours on the street who built their own place a few years back, have cisterns that collects rainwater from their roof, and this is what we are going to do. The only problem is where to put such a cistern. Around the house, there is only about 12″ (30cm) of soil before you hit limestone. And digging very large holes out of limestone is hard work. Luckily, the verdict of the public health authority on our current septic system – that is must be replaced – helps us out here. We have a very large two-chamber concrete septic tank, mostly under the deck to the North-west of the old house. If we didn’t have any other reason, we’d just leave it, but the space will be perfect for a big rainwater cistern, so we’ll be getting someone in to break up the old tank and take them away. We’re also lucky in that we will have two buildings adjacent to the new cistern and two roofs to collect from.
As for the septic, we decided, as with most things, to get it right from the beginning and had an excellent local sewage engineer, Martin Burger of Groundwork Engineering in Kingston, take a look at the site and design us a system to suit our needs and the legal requirements. He identified two systems that would work best for us: Premier Tech’s Ecoflo biofilter and the relatively new, Waterloo Flat Bed biofilter. Both are good systems and both have similar annual inspection requirements from the makers, but in the end it was the fact that the Waterloo biofilter needs less excavation and is less prominent in the landscape than the Ecoflo.