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Great Lakes Article:

CLEAN WATER IN MINNESOTA: Fund program to fix septic systems
St. Paul Pioneer Press
02/17/04


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.

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