County begins final septic compliance phase

Published 6:20 am Wednesday, January 29, 2020

After years of work to bring septic systems within the county into compliance, Mower County is preparing its final push for county-wide compliance in 2020.

The effort began in 2008, with the intent of keeping septic systems up to code to protect ground and surface waters, according to a press release.

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Commissioners viewed the protection of these waters as incredibly important.

“Non-compliant septic systems contaminate our local rivers, streams and groundwater,” said Commissioner Tim Gabrielson. “Groundwater is the source of drinking water for almost everyone in Mower County.”

Faulty septic systems can send things like bacteria and viruses, nutrients or chemicals into fresh water supplies, the press release said.

As part of the final phase, the county will be working on education for members of the public, changes to local ordinances, low-interest loans for installing systems, sewage treatment studies and collaborating with property owners to bring systems up to code.

The county has about $900,000 in funds for low-interest loans for new systems.

Currently, the county has a compliance rate of 70 percent, with the latest push aimed at addressing the final 30 percent. Mower County currently ranks 58 out of the 87 Minnesota counties for compliance.

Not all of the remaining 30 percent may be out of compliance, as the county has not checked on them yet, but a portion will be, said Environmental Services Supervisor Angela Lipelt.

“We just don’t know at this point,” she said.

Some of the items that are checked to ensure compliance is the integrity of the septic tank and the amount of space separating the bottom of it from the limiting soil condition.

The distance is two or three feet, depending on if all other parts of the system are compliant, Lipelt said. In areas zoned as shoreland around rivers and streams, the separation must always be three feet.

At Tuesday’s meeting, when the final push was discussed, Commissioner Jerry Reinartz asked why there has been so few new systems installed in the past couple years.

The biggest issue has been the weather, Lipelt said. With all the rain and wet weather over the last couple years, it has prevented a number of systems from being installed.

In 2019, 34 systems were installed, with another 26 designed, but not put in. Another 44 systems need to be replaced, but new systems have not been designed.

Commissioner Mike Ankeny said the county has been doing good work on this big issue and thanked staff for their efforts. One specific item he pointed out was an informational meeting held Jan. 13, which had 80 people in attendance.

“It was very educational. This education has to be right up front,” Ankeny said.

If people are educated about the issue, they will want to do the right thing, he said.

Commissioner Jeff Baldus said one issue people may have is finding contractors for the work. Reinartz followed up by asking how many septic system contractors are in the county.

The county has a number of contractors both in and out of the county that it has worked with and can inform people of, Lipelt said.

These contractors are listed at

Additional septic system information can be found at