Free workshop in Austin April 7th focused on septics, wells

Rural homeowners in Mower County are encouraged to learn more about their septic tanks and drinking-water wells at a free workshop this week in Austin.

Mower County Environmental Services is offering a “Septic System Care and Maintenance & Domestic Wells” workshop from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, April 7, at the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center’s Ruby Rupner Auditorium, 1304 21st St. N.E.

This workshop will feature guest speakers from the University of Minnesota talking about wells and subsurface sewage treatment systems (SSTS); free nitrate testing for those who bring a sample of their well water; and a voucher up to $750 toward a septic-compliance inspection for Mower County properties.

Valerie Sheedy, assistant supervisor for Mower County Environmental Services stated that new septic systems are expensive, but she added that a little care for a system can go a long way.  Land stewardship includes properly managing your waste, Sheedy said, adding that just because wastewater is flushed away doesn’t mean it is treated.

With the voucher, Mower County will give up to 100 vouchers; if more than 100 property owners request it, a lottery will decide the voucher recipients.  Snacks and refreshments will be provided along with free well-testing kits and septic system owner’s guides.

For septics, the presentation will cover numerous SSTS topics, including what is involved with a septic inspection; how often you should have an SSTS inspection; how to prevent winter freeze-up in tanks; and the importance of soil under an SSTS drain field. Information also will be given on safe drinking water with private wells, including how and when to test your well water and which wells are at risk for contamination.

Mower County Environmental Services also will give information on the county’s septic ordinance, policies, programs and compliance inspections. Attendees also can learn about low-interest loans available for septic systems.

At the workshop, Mower Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) will have a booth with a variety of information, including on cost-share assistance for landowners seeking to seal an old or unused well in Mower County. Cost-share for approved applicants covers 50 percent of the cost for sealing a well; the cost-share is capped at $1,000 per well.

In 2021, Mower County experienced a second-straight busy year of septic upgrades as part of a countywide initiative started two years ago to better protect local waterways and underground drinking water sources.

Mower County Environmental Services issued 128 permits in 2021 for new septic systems, with 112 of those SSTS projects completed to bring properties into compliance. This construction followed a record year in 2020 for Mower County when 128 new septic systems were installed, topping a previous record of 125 systems from a decade earlier.

In 2021, the townships with the most septics installed were Austin (10); Adams (nine); Racine (nine); and LeRoy (eight). About 62 percent of the new systems in 2021 were built in the Cedar River watershed (western half of Mower), with the other 38 percent in the Root River and Upper Iowa watersheds of the county’s eastern half.

Mower County Environmental Services, 1105 Eighth Ave. N.E. in Austin, can assist with low-interest loans for septic replacements and other septic questions at (507) 437-7718 and online at: