Mower County issues 128 permits for new septic systems in 2021 under county-wide initiative

Mower County experienced another busy year for installing septic systems as part of a countywide initiative launched two years ago to better protect local waterways and underground drinking water sources.

Angela Lipelt, Mower County’s Environmental Services Supervisor stated that in 2021, Mower County Environmental Services issued 128 permits for new subsurface sewage treatment systems (SSTS), with 112 of those systems 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.

Last year, 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’s Board of Commissioners launched the SSTS initiative in January 2020 to complete the final phase of the county’s long-running efforts to achieve septic compliance countywide.

Some changes in recent years have included the county adding compliance-inspection prompts; commercial and industrial septic systems needing to maintain constant compliance through inspections or operating permits; and septic systems (if not compliant) needing to be upgraded before transferring property or an escrow will need to be established for its transfer.

In 2020, the Mower County Board revised the county’s septic ordinance by adding more prompts for compliance inspections, specifically for land-use permits, including zoning permits. This only is for septic systems more than 20 years old or undocumented and assumed to be older than 20 years.

Lipelt stated that county commissioners then revised the ordinance in April of 2021 to allow for “minor structure” exceptions to the county’s certificate of compliance requirement. This allows people to make small improvements to their property without risking big consequences with their septic system, such as being found to own a non-compliant system.  Liplet went on to state that county staff will conduct a zoning review on the minor-structure requests and identify potential issues for the landowners along with what, if any, consequences there could be next time they need a permit or want to sell or transfer the property.

About 18 septic systems with permits issued in 2021 can move to construction in 2022, Lipelt said. A few projects also began construction but weren’t completed before the year’s end.

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: