After weeks of agonizing on my part about my work I've been doing towards a new garden spot and the unknown septic system location, a "Committee" from the County Health Department and the Environmental Services Department converged on my house last week with copies of the 26 year old septic permit, old satellite photos of our place, plus a couple of resident neighbors with long memories showed up, and the lone septic tank pumper I called, we finally located the septic tank. It's 90 feet from the area we thought... it's under an addition to the front of the house and the front porch! (Actually it's mostly under my living room.)
However (and fortuitously) the very corner of the tank that has the lid is just barely outside the footers / concrete block foundation for the addition, so all I had to do for pumping access was tear off the front steps. Plus, the tank and leach field were found to be in good working order!
The Distribution box is 2' under a nearby Hosta bed, and most of the leach field is in the front yard and partially under one raised flower bed I built 5 years ago. However, the far end of the leach field trenches run about 15 feet into the huge area I just sheet-mulched for a new garden bed... The good news is the whole flatish area above the new bed (and where I thought the leach field was) is now available for more garden extension and even a couple of shade trees next year.
About half of the 9 truckloads of mulch and woodchips I put over what is now known to be the far end of the leach field will need to be moved, and one huge overgrown shrub in the front yard will have to go. But all in all, it's not nearly as bad as it could have been.
What might have been $6,000-$9,000 for a whole new system will end up costing around $1500 to fix (including material for new front steps which I will build in a few days) and that includes my guess of $1,000 for some heavy equipment to dig out a series of shallow bog ponds for future greywater filtering, along with some terracing on the hillside behind the house for surface water management.
They say things come in threes. So if septic was the first, the next day brought the second one: the water heater died. It has been anticipated as it was old, undersized, and only had 1 heating element (which I replaced by myself 4 years ago). I just didn't expect it to happen the day after the septic costs! I'm not looking forward to the third disaster!
I'll be eating from my survival pantry for a while, between money paid out yesterday for the septic work, and then more money for the new water heater to be installed in the morning, plus a few more dollars to fix yet another new water leak we found under the house today. (That makes 6 leaks in 5.5 years; all the hot-cold water supply lines need replacing.) I'm really glad I have my pantry!
(We haven't even addressed the septic line connecting the 2 bathrooms [under the old trailer portion of the house] which we just found was NEVER properly installed on a slope so it drains correctly. There IS a slope but it actually runs the wrong way. No wonder the bathroom at the other end of the house doesn't drain easily.)
The good news is that I have all winter to re-design a new garden area, and actually a lot more space to play with... so it has all worked out pretty much okay. (And obviously I must have needed the exercise of adding a foot of mulch to a thousand square feet of lawn only to have to move it again.)
ps... I'll be out of pocket and able to approve comments until the morning of Nov. 21