As many of you are aware, a large majority of homes in the City of Maywood Park are serviced by individual onsite cesspools. This page is an effort to try and provide a little more information about systems you might find on your property and what options we have for the future.
What is a cesspool?
A cesspool (or leaching pool) is a shallow system for disposing of sanitary waste. Although structures vary, most cesspools consist of a pit into which concrete, brick or cement block walls have been placed, with a gravel base. It is basically a concrete cylinder with an open bottom or perforated sides. Sanitary waste from toilets, sinks, and washing machines enters the cesspool and percolates out the bottom into the soil.
Cesspools are typically cylinders 3 to 4-feet in diameter, approximately 15 feet deep with perforations made of either brick or precast concrete rings. Cesspools are commonly found East of the Willamette River. Prior to the 1950s, cesspools were typically constructed of brick. After the 1950s, cesspools were typically made of precast concrete rings.
Cesspools are constructed below the ground surface. Sanitary waste enters near the top and percolates through an open bottom and porous sides.
How do I locate my cesspool?
Locating your cesspool can take some research and possibly the assistance of a septic contractor. In some cases, your cesspool may have been replaced years ago for various reasons. In some of those instances, you can go search at portlandmaps.com, look up your street address and look under permits and zoning. If a prior cesspool repair or replacement was made, you may find a historic permit for your property. In some cases, those permits will have a hand sketch noting where on your property the cesspool is roughly located.
Unfortunately, permit references like this don’t always exist and the City of Maywood Park does not have any records that show cesspool location given many homes were built prior to Maywood Park incorporating in 1967.
A rough guide to locating the original cesspool is to find the main plumbing vent stack (usually 4”) coming through the roof, visualize a straight line extending from the stack through the exterior foundation, and then locate and follow the original plumbing line to either the cesspool or septic tank.
- Typically 10-12 feet straight out from the foundation, in line with that main plumbing vent stack on the roof.
- About 3 to 5 feet below ground surface (bgs) to the top, if the building does not have plumbing in the basement, or about 8 to 10 feet bgs if it does.
- In general the top can be found at the depth the sewer line is exiting the building, plus 2 feet.
Replacement cesspools are usually located straight out or offset at a 45° angle and approximately 10 feet away from the original cesspool. For example:
- A record showing a cesspool located 22 feet from a building is likely a replacement cesspool, regardless of what the plumbing record narrative may or may not say.
- Similarly, if the plumbing record shows a new cesspool in 1971, but the home was built in 1943, two cesspools will need to be located, one of brick and one of concrete.
Your best and most accurate option to locate and determine condition of your cesspool is to call a septic company to come do an inspection. Often, they can “scope” your system with a camera to determine condition of the pipes and walls of the cesspool as well as locate where it is on your property. The small cost to have this done is often well worth the money and peace of mind.
If my cesspool fails, can I replace it with a new cesspool?
The simple answer to that question is no. As part of federal and state ground water protection programs, the installation of new cesspools is no longer allowed. The EPA banned cesspools because untreated sanitary waste from cesspools can enter ground water and contaminate drinking water sources. This is a concern for the following reasons.
- Cesspools are not designed to treat sanitary waste.
- Cesspool wastewaters often have higher levels of nitrates and coliform bacteria than are allowed in drinking water.
- The wastewater may contain other pollutants such as phosphates, chlorides, grease, viruses, and chemicals used to clean cesspools.
If my cesspool fails and needs to be replaced, what are my options?
If through working with a septic contractor you determine that your current cesspool has failed, the only current option is for you to install a new septic system. This process involves working with a licensed septic contractor and the Multnomah County Sanitarian through the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) to conduct a site evaluation to determine what type of system can be installed on your property. The old cesspool will need to be decommissioned as part of the new system being installed. The footprint of your property may determine what type of system gets approved based on where buildings, trees, etc are located. To learn more, contact
Bureau of Development Services
1900 SW 4th Ave, Portland, OR 97201
What about sewer in Maywood Park, is that a possibility?
The city has completed a sewer feasibility study and is actively been working on a Waste Water Facilities plan with a local civil engineering firm. We are currently in the final stages of completing some rate payer studies and developing at associated public policies with the proposed sewer options listed in that Waste Water Facilities plan.
Our goal is to present the proposed Waste Water Facilities Plan with options and associated costs to our residents soon. Public support will be the determining factor in whether sewer comes to the City of Maywood Park, so look for more information in the coming months.
If you have more questions, we would encourage you to attend one of our city council meetings which are typically held at 7pm on the 1st and 3rd Mondays of each month at the Maywood Park Campus of Mt Hood Community College.