Mower maintains septic progress countywide – Austin Daily Herald

Mower ensures septic tank progress nationwide

Published on Friday, January 26, 2024, 5:24 p.m

Contractors install a new underground wastewater treatment system (SSTS) in a rural residential area. Photo provided

The county sees 92 SSTS replacements in 2023; a total of 430 since 2020

Since the launch of a statewide initiative in 2020, 430 wastewater treatment plants have been replaced in Mower County, which will support efforts to protect groundwater and local waterways.

During the 2023 construction season, Mower County Environmental Services oversaw the installation of 92 subsurface wastewater treatment systems (SSTS) replacing nonconforming systems.

Approximately 64 percent of these systems (59 septic tanks) were replaced in the Cedar River watershed, which covers the western half of Mower County. An additional 33 septic tanks were installed in the Root River watershed in eastern Mower County.

Red Rock Township, northeast of Austin, had the most septic tank replacements (11) last year out of the 20 townships in Mower County. LeRoy Township had the second-highest number with nine wastewater treatment plants, followed by Adams and Austin townships with eight each.

In 2020, the Mower County Board launched an initiative to accelerate SSTS compliance across the county, resulting in the installation of 128 new septic tanks that year, which was the highest since 125 systems were installed a decade earlier.

Non-compliant wastewater treatment plants endanger human health and the environment because they fail to properly treat wastewater before it enters groundwater, lakes and streams, said Angela Lipelt, the county's environmental commissioner.

“Mower County’s septic tank initiative continues to make a huge difference,” Lipelt said.

Area residents attend a free workshop on underground wastewater treatment systems (SSTS) and their proper maintenance at the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center in Austin in April 2022. Mower County Environmental Services has partnered with the University of Minnesota, Mower Soil & Water Conservation District and others to offer it. Photo provided

County staff have issued permits for an additional 12 septic tanks, with construction expected in 2024, Lipelt said. Additionally, another 25 septic tank projects are being reviewed for permit approval.

Another 19 sites in the county have been identified as needing a new wastewater system but have not yet had a permit application submitted, Lipelt said. Most of these are related to a transfer of ownership or the need for planning permission, she said.

Also in 2023, 109 wastewater treatment plant inspections were conducted by local wastewater treatment plants in the county. Of these sites, 69 were found to be in compliance, but another 40 were found to be non-compliant.

To date, there are more than 4,000 properties in Mower County with a septic system. The county estimates that 75 percent of these systems are in compliance, another 22 percent are considered inadequate to protect groundwater and 3 percent are considered an “imminent threat to public health and safety.”

Before the new SSTS regulation, the county typically found about 17 non-compliant wastewater treatment plants each year, Lipelt said. Since the ordinance was passed, county staff has identified about 30 non-compliant systems annually.

“This change has been instrumental in accelerating septic code compliance,” she added.

Through its SSTS program, Mower County offers some assistance options to property owners, including:

• Septic tank loan of up to 90 percent of the cost of the replacement system, payable over 10 years as a tax bill.

• Compliance inspection vouchers (if available) if required to review a land use permit.

•Grants for low-income earners; A suitable example is a family of four with an annual income of less than $66,650.

In early 2020, the Mower County Board launched an SSTS initiative to complete the final phase of the county's long-standing efforts toward statewide wastewater compliance.

Changes in recent years have included the county introducing calls for compliance inspections; Commercial and industrial wastewater systems that must ensure ongoing compliance through inspections or operating permits; and septic systems (if non-compliant) that need to be upgraded prior to transfer of ownership or an escrow account must be set up for the transfer.

Septic tank owners are urged to ensure they properly maintain their system, Lipelt said. A properly maintained septic system, pumped and inspected every three to five years, will last 30 years or longer.

The University of Minnesota's On-Site Wastewater Treatment Program offers detailed tips on its website for the best maintenance of septic systems, ranging from annual maintenance to daily care:

Mower County Environmental Services, 1105 Eighth Ave. NE in Austin, can assist with low-interest loans for septic tank replacement and other septic tank questions at (507) 437-7718 and online at: Septic systems

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