For the past 20 years, Minnesota has been identifying and replacing inadequate septic systems (also called subsurface sewage treatment systems, or SSTSs). There are more than 500,000 of them across Minnesota that treat sewage from 25% of our citizens. We rely on working these septic systems to protect the purity of our groundwater, lakes, and streams — and our health.
We are making progress in upgrading systems, thanks largely to the efforts of counties, cities, and townships. Local SSTS ordinances specify events that will trigger a septic system inspection that can lead to fixing or replacing systems. Triggering events include when a home is sold, when a homeowner applies for a building permit, when a change in use occurs, or when a local variance is being sought.
The 2013 SSTS Annual Report shows more than 72,500 construction permits were issued over the past 12 years to replace existing systems. And many upgrades were made following a compliance inspection.
Over a period of 12 years, the number of reported replacement systems was 72,526 systems; this represents an estimated flow of 4.96 billion gallons per year now treated with a modern septic system.
In 2013, local governments that administer SSTS programs were asked to report several new statistics, including the number of inspections of existing systems that were performed in their jurisdiction. Inspections of existing systems totaled 11,500, or more than 2% of all systems in the state. Out of 232 reporting governments with SSTS programs, Otter Tail County performed the most inspections at 933. Four other counties each reported more than 500 compliance inspections: Cass, Crow Wing, St. Louis and Stearns.
Since 2008, inspection triggers and other compliance programs implemented by local governments have increased the number of septic systems that meet current state standards from 309,000 to 427,000, out of a total of 534,000 systems.
We know this because counties and other local governments that manage septic programs report a variety of SSTS statistics each year to the MPCA. "This helps us decide where we need to focus resources to best protect human health and the environment," says Jim Ziegler, manager of the MPCA SSTS unit.