Aiming to protect groundwater and local lakes and streams, Mower County is making record progress this year in working with property owners to get their septic systems into compliance.
If dry weather continues, Mower County expects a total of 120 subsurface sewage treatment systems (SSTS) installed this construction season, said Angela Lipelt, supervisor of Mower County Environmental Services. If all those systems are installed, Lipelt stated that the 2021 construction season will begin without any carry-over SSTS projects.
Lipelt went on to state that this construction season followed an unusually low number of septic systems installed in 2019 due to overly wet conditions that created a difficult year for septic construction.
Progress also has been made this summer on the Turtle Creek II project that is providing municipal sewer services to 40 properties on the edge of northwest Austin that have been annexed into the city. This is a follow-up to the Turtle Creek I project a few years ago that annexed and connected city sewer to 36 properties.
Numerous SSTS upgrades have been happening because of a strong real-estate market that prompts review of existing septic systems at the time of property transfers, Lipelt said. Others, though, have been voluntary, including a Lyle-area resident who wanted to upgrade his septic system so that his grandchildren will have “something better” on his land in later years.
This all is part of an effort launched earlier this year by the Mower County Board to complete the final phase of the county’s long-running initiative to achieve septic compliance countywide. This effort has been supported by providing more public-awareness activities and ongoing educational opportunities, including a free workshop last January in Austin on septic systems and drinking water wells. Mower County Board members have committed more resources toward the SSTS compliance efforts in 2020 and continue to work with staff on considering possible revisions to the county’s SSTS ordinance.
In June, the Mower County Board voted to change its septic-loan policy to fund 90% of the costs for a qualifying septic system as part of the county’s septic-loan program. In general, this decreases a landowner’s out-of-pocket cost for the average cost of a mound system from $6,000 to $2,000. It does, however, increase the amount of principal and interest paid back by the property owner on their county taxes, as an assessment, over a 10-year period.
This year, Mower County has approved 24 septic-loan applications, earmarking more than $425,000 in septic-loan funds to local landowners for replacing their failing septic systems. Loans to property owners generally range from $14,000 to $22,000. Overall, hundreds of septic systems through the years have been replaced with support from the county’s septic-loan program.
While past SSTS efforts have addressed Mower County’s most-critical areas and imminent health threats, county staff recognize that – as of early 2020 – nearly 30 percent of septic systems countywide still had an unknown compliance status.
Mower County, which ranks 58 out of Minnesota’s 87 counties for SSTS compliance ranking, first began permitting septic systems in 1958. The more recent initiative started in 2008 with a SSTS Imminent Public Health Threat (IPHT) inventory in response to growing concerns about bacterial impairments in local lakes and streams.
Since 2008, Mower County homeowners have installed 953 new septic systems out of 3,445 systems countywide. In that same period, several unsewered communities have been connected to a new community sewage-treatment system or annexed into the City of Austin’s municipal sewage system, including pockets of homes and businesses along the Cedar River, Dobbins Creek and Turtle Creek.
Mower County Environmental Services can assist with low-interest loans for septic-replacement projects and with other septic-related questions at 507-437-7718. The office is located at 1105 Eighth Ave. N.E. in Austin. You also can go online at: http://www.co.mower.mn.us/public-works-main.html