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Loans to help repair failing septic systems in Washington County

With some parts of the county aging and the housing market picking up, more homeowners are becoming aware of their old or failing septic systems.

As soon as Washington County offered funding from the Minnesota Clean Land and Water Legacy Amendment to assist in replacing sewage treatment systems, three residents quickly snapped up a share of the $20,901 grant in August.

“We hear from a lot of people, even if they’re not selling their homes, they know that their systems are old,” said Amanda Strommer, program manager for the Public Health and Environment Department. “Some of the (septic systems) we got applicants for are not functioning.”

In rural areas, including large parts of Woodbury and Cottage Grove, private septic systems are commonly used to treat waste. Proper treatment of wastewater reduces health risks and the threat of contamination to surface and groundwater.

This year was the first time Washington County offered a first-come, first-serve loan and the county is drafting an updated groundwater plan that identifies the potential for future public funding to help residents replace their septic systems.

Washington County has already secured nearly $38,000 in Clean Land and Water Legacy funds for qualified residents to replace their septics next year, Strommer said.

A large percentage of Woodbury and Cottage Grove’s septic systems are privately owned, costing the average homeowner anywhere between $10,000 to $20,000 if they fail.

“It can be really expensive and it’s a cost that people maybe aren’t planning for,” Strommer said. “That’s why that low interest loan is an option, we think that’ll help.”

Though the county has secured the state grant, it’s still working with various parties to secure future low interest loans.

Washington County first adopted its septic ordinance in 1972 and most recently updated it in 2009 to require compliance inspections at the time of home sales.

Before that, there was hardly a way to find out if the septic systems are failing, besides homeowners finding out on their own when they see signs of backup in the home.

Strommer said the ordinance requirement to replace or fix septics at the time of sale has helped some homeowners who are maybe short on cash to use the homebuying process with additional loans and cash flow opportunities to fix problems before transfer of ownership.

But there are others who aren’t in the same boat still in need of public, low-interest funding to protect their homes, as well as avoid any public contamination to drinking water.

Working to adopt the ground water plan is “recognizing that we need to try to find more funding and incentives for people,” Strommer said. “This funding is really good avenue and we’re excited to get even more next year.”

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.