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Although municipal sewer systems keep creeping out beyond the suburbs, the number of houses that handle water disposal on site remains much the same as 40 years ago. In fact, about one-fourth of all houses built today are equipped with private septic systems. Nationwide, approximately 15 million on-site septic systems serve 20 percent of the population. In addition, there are still millions of outhouses (dubbed "Ameri-can" by Jack Miller, a poetic, longtime acquaintance of mine from Maryland) and "straightpipers" —people who simply run a pipe from the house to a nearby river or lake (a practice that now is strictly illegal in most states). Today's septic systems are a considerable improvement over our earlier cesspools, which consisted of a