CLEAN WATER IN MINNESOTA: Fund
program to fix septic systems
St. Paul Pioneer Press
In the current fiscal and political climate, even the
smartest and most reasonable of public solutions to problems
can fall by the wayside. That's the case so far with an
unfunded plan to reduce the harm caused by septic waste
to Minnesota's water. The Legislature should find a way
to fund a statewide program to identify and remediate
faulty septic systems, starting at least with the worst
of the bad.
The Minnesota Environmental Partnership estimates that
a third of the 536,000 septic systems in the state are
improperly designed or maintained. The umbrella group
of environmental organizations, which has clean water
as a current focus, believes that 64,000 of these septic
systems pose imminent threats to public health and safety
because they discharge effluent directly into lakes, rivers
and streams or to tile lines that connect with surface
or ground water.
Fixing the septic systems in a state where water quality
is an economic as well as a public health concern should
be a no-brainer. The difficulty in getting from talk to
action, however, is how to fund a smartly designed 10-year
program of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to deal
with septic system integrity. The program would require
about $10 million to make the necessary septic system
assessments and $65 million to do the cleanup work.
It's clear what goes on now is insufficient. The state
relies on owner disclosures, usually when a transfer of
property is to take place, and on catching faulty systems
through the building permit process. This strikes us as
willy-nilly and unfocused policy management.
But there has been no realism yet about finding the money
for the statewide septic cleanup plan. The t-word (taxes)
is forbidden politicalspeak, so a way must be contrived
to levy fees for septic cleanup. A long dance by many
stakeholders so far has produced no acceptable answer
to where the money should come from.
Among the many worthy proposals on Minnesota water quality,
even the environmentally clueless should understand that
64,000 straight pipe discharges of human waste requires
immediate, systematic attention.
Ending the threats posed by the straight pipe systems
is an imperative. Just do it.