Who doesn’t welcome spring, particularly after the remarkable winter we’ve just endured? But with it comes the unadvertised invitation to summer guests. I treasure these opportunities. Maine, after all, is a bucket list destination for many from around the world: great food, unmatched vistas, abundant wildlife and a rugged coast.

There’s a lingering concern I’ve been unable to resolve, however; namely, how do we explain to visitors the delicate balance between those two holes in the ground – the well and the septic system?

For folks from away (i.e. “city dwellers”), it’s a no brainer. Day in and day out, they use gallons and gallons of water, then it just disappears with nary a concern. Municipal systems, after all, provide a seemingly unlimited inflow and outflow.

Therein lies the problem. Because for those of us with wells and engineered septic systems, it’s much more complicated. Neither is infinite. They have a sensitive, symbiotic relationship: Abuse one, and both suffer.

Call me paranoid, but shortly after moving to Maine in the ’70s we had a well run dry, eventually recharging a couple hours later. It wasn’t the fault of visitors, only our own. Nevertheless, it was a disheartening experience, and one I don’t want to revisit. But it’s a dilemma city dwellers rarely consider. Understandably, they’ve been brought up oblivious to the link between supply and demand; the ability to deliver and capacity to remove.

So when houseguests come for a few days or a few weeks, how do we describe the deal without seeming elitist or “Mother Earthish?” Even the sophisticated Portland Water District recently had to spend user fees on a public awareness campaign regarding difficulties in processing supposedly “flushable” items without expensive filter unclogging. Perhaps that’s the answer . . . TV ads.


Seriously, when visitors arrive, how can we broach the topic of our septic functions in a way that is clear, descriptive and undeniable but not off-putting? “Pass the potato salad please, and that reminds me, did I ever explain how our septic system operates?”

I remember a clever, but firmly worded placard posted at a rustic cabin that promoted water conservation and identified items that should never be flushed down the toilet. In retrospect, it was obviously targeted at city folks. Hard to say if it was effective, but we never experienced any problems during the many years we returned.

Let’s be clear: I cannot be so bold as to post a note on the bathroom wall. If I were, it would discourage half-hour showers and list descriptions of goodies never meant even for municipal water treatment facilities, let alone our fragile arrangement.

Fixing a broken system can be expensive. And the fixes will probably occur long after summer visitors have left; when the memories of their transgressions are minimized by the fun times we shared.

So before the first guests arrive, I could use some suggestions. Who knows, maybe where there’s a well, there’s a way.

— Special to the Telegram

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