Appropriate grants are available for some northwest Georgia homeowners who need to repair or replace aging or failed sewage treatment systems, according to the Limestone Valley Resource Conservation & Development Council.
“When you help one person with their septic tank repair, you ultimately improve the downstream water quality impact for everyone,” said Stephen Bontekoe, the council’s executive director.
Matching grants are available in areas of the South Chickamauga Creek and Lookout Creek watersheds that are part of the Trenton-based nonprofit’s partnership with the Environmental Protection Division of Georgia and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency.
The council received $243,000 from the federal government for the project, which also has an equivalent of $166,597 that includes money from landowners, volunteer time and local sources, Bontekoe said. All in all, it’s a nearly $410,000 investment, Bontekoe said, for a project that has started but hasn’t yet disbursed funds.
Homeowners pay contractors to do the work. Once the Georgia Department of Public Health confirms that the work was performed to state standards, the homeowner will be reimbursed by the council in 10 days or less, Bontekoe said.
The qualifying area of the Lookout Creek watershed includes most of Dade County and part of western Walker County. The South Chickamauga Creek qualifying area is centered on the southeast portion of Catoosa County, along with a small portion of Walker County and a western portion of Whitfield County.
Mark Blevins, owner of Blevins Septic & Back Hoe in Chickamauga, Georgia, said most repairs cost $3,500 to $9,000. Most of the time, the problem is with the fill lines between the house and the tank.
“Usually it’s just the lines, but when the tank goes bad, you just pump it out, put a new tank right next to it and fill it up. You just leave it in place,” said Blevins, who has over 14 years of experience does septic work. The job only takes a day, he said.
(READ MORE: Georgia’s Walker County invests more than $45 million in water infrastructure)
This is the second month of funding for the septic assistance program, said Matt Heath, one of the council’s contractors. It takes time to get the permits and project estimates, and he said the council is currently undertaking some repair projects.
What the council will pay is flexible based on needs, he said. The council will pay less for rental properties or a property that isn’t a primary residence, Heath said.
Signs of a problem with the septic tank are stuck sinks and gurgling toilets. In extreme cases, a homeowner sees septic sewage in his garden – and notices the corresponding smell. Heath said he saw some $1,500 worth of repairs.
In other council work, Bontekoe said it had just completed work on Holly Creek near Chatsworth in Murray County and completed a watershed management plan for the Georgia side of Chattanooga Creek, which runs through Rossville and Flintstone. Chattanooga Creek funding was requested but not approved.
Funds are also available to help livestock owners look after their animals — and keep their water sources cleaner.
“We are able to stand alongside this producer and install irrigation systems, pipelines, cross fences and infrastructure to manage their animals in a way that reduces the impact on water quality,” he said.
In streams, high bacterial runoff acts like a fertilizer that “can cause algal blooms that can make our streams less healthy and unsightly,” Heath said. The best way to learn about a stream’s water quality is through the state’s annual tests, he said.
Bontekoe said he understands that sometimes people struggle, and it can be a difficult decision between getting septic repairs and feeding their family.
“We get a call from a property owner or a health department saying, ‘Hey, can you help me?’ If they’re within the watershed and have a legitimate need, then we’re here to do it,” he said.
Bontekoe said his organization is working to support a variety of community efforts.
Not every project is eligible for grants, but Bontekoe said if funds aren’t available, the council will still try to put community members in touch with experts.
Other community projects were based around air quality, soil conservation, air quality work, work with endangered species, and habitat improvement. The council is working to improve habitat in the Conasauga River, the boundary that separates Whitfield and Murray counties. But water quality is the organization’s big “passion and focus” right now.
“Because water is so important to life, we tend to come back to it,” Bontekoe said.
The council serves Catoosa, Chattooga, Cherokee, Dade, Fannin, Gilmer, Gordon, Murray, Pickens, Walker and Whitfield counties.
Contact Andrew Wilkins at [email protected] or 423-757-6659. Follow him on Twitter @tweetatwilkins.