Homeowners are often faced with unexpected expenses. The furnace goes out, the washing machine starts leaking, or maybe the siding gets damaged in a Minnesota hail storm. For homeowners who are not served by municipal sewer systems, fixing a malfunctioning septic system can be a significant expense. And unlike siding damage, fixing the problem can't be put off. Raw septage surfacing on your lawn will cause foul odors and pose health risks to both you and your neighbors. Depending on the problem with the system, waste could even back up into your house.
For low-income homeowners, major repairs or replacing a septic system may be out of reach. The cost to replace a system ranges from $8,000 to $20,000, depending on the area of the state, system size, soil conditions, and more. Once the county or other local septic oversight program becomes aware of a failing system, the owner has just 10 months to fix it. This can push cash-strapped homeowners, who don't qualify for traditional loans, into a crisis.
In addition, the sewage treated by septic systems contains bacteria, viruses, parasites, nutrients, and chemicals, so it's critical to the environment and human health that septic systems function properly. When they don't, groundwater, lakes, and streams can become contaminated. This risk is particularly acute near sources of drinking water.
Help is available
The MPCA has been using Clean Water Legacy Funds to help fix failing septic systems for eight years. Each year, counties can apply for grant dollars from the MPCA to help residents faced with septic system failures. The agency strives to have $1 million or more available each year, though the amount has varied. In 2019, 50 of the state's 87 counties received funding. Program details vary, but many counties provide grants that cover a portion of the replacement costs with the homeowner providing the rest. As of October 2019, Clean Water Fund dollars have helped approximately 850 Minnesota homeowners repair their septic systems.
The need for septic system assistance continues to rise. Every year, Minnesota counties apply for more funds than the MPCA has available. An MPCA proposal to increase the grant dollars available for fixing faulty systems is awaiting approval.
If your home has a septic system, visit the Healthy septic systems page for information on maintaining the system and preventing expensive problems.