Mower County maintains septic progress countywide

Since launching a countywide initiative in 2020, Mower County has seen the replacement of 430 septic systems, which will help efforts to protect groundwater and local waterways.

During the 2023 construction season, Mower County Environmental Services oversaw the installation of 92 subsurface sewage treatment systems (SSTS) that replaced non-compliant systems.

About 64 percent of those system (59 septics) were replaced in the Cedar River watershed that covers the western half of Mower County; another 33 septics were installed in the Root River watershed of eastern Mower County.

Red Rock Township, northeast of Austin, saw the most septic replacements (11) last year out of Mower County’s 20 townships. LeRoy Township had the second-highest with nine septic installations followed by Adams and Austin townships that each had eight.

In 2020, the Mower County Board launched a push to accelerate SSTS compliance throughout the county, leading to 128 new septics installed that year, which was the highest since 125 systems were installed a decade earlier.

Non-compliant septic systems threaten human health and the environment because they do not properly treat wastewater before it enters groundwater, lakes and streams, said Angela Lipelt, the county’s environmental services supervisor.

“Mower County’s septic initiative is continuing to make a big difference,” Lipelt said.

County staff have issued permits for another 12 septics that are awaiting construction in 2024, Lipelt said. There also are another 25 septic projects under review for permit approval.

Another 19 sites in the county have been identified as needing a new septic system but no permit application has been submitted yet, Lipelt said. Most of those are related to a property ownership transfer or the need for a zoning permit, she said.

Also in 2023, the county saw 109 inspections of septic systems by local septic contractors. Out of those sites, 69 were determined to be in compliance but another 40 were found to be non-compliant.

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

Prior to the new SSTS ordinance, the county typically found about 17 non-compliant septic systems each year, Lipelt said. Since the ordinance’s adoption, county staff now find about 30 non-compliant systems annually.

“This change has helped greatly in expediting septic compliance,” she added.

Under its SSTS program, Mower County offers some assistance to property owners that includes:

  • Septic loans of up to 90 percent of the replacement system’s cost to be paid over 10 years as a tax assessment.
  • Compliance-inspection vouchers (while available) if required to inspect for a land-use permit.
  • Low-income grants; an qualifying example is a family of four with an annual income under $66,650.

In early 2020, the Mower County Board launched an SSTS initiative 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.

Septic owners are urged to make sure they are properly maintaining their system, Lipelt said. A properly maintained septic system that is pumped and inspected every three to five years will last 30 years or more.

University of Minnesota’s On-Site Sewage Treatment Program offers extensive tips for best maintenance of septic systems, ranging from annual maintenance to daily care, on its website:

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: