March MPCA SSTS Bulletin

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SSTS Bulletin

March 2017

MPCA striving to hold all SST professionals accountable for work quality

During the annual Minnesota Onsite Wastewater Association's (MOWA) annual meeting in Duluth in January, MPCA SSTS Manager Jim Ziegler provided an update on the SSTS program in Minnesota.

Ordinance adoption – All counties have updated their SSTS ordinances to reflect current state rules and regulations. Of the approximately 141 cities, townships and special purpose local governmental units, 105 have updated their ordinances while another 20 are working through the ordinance adoption process.

Grants – The MPCA awards incentive grants to counties that have provisions in their ordinances that go above and beyond the minimum program requirements. The MPCA has been working with counties through the SSTS Implementation and Enforcement Task Force to identify the most beneficial ways to use incentive grants ($195,000 awarded in 2016) to accelerate SSTS compliance across the state. Information on the next round of grants will be sent to counties in May.

Licensing and certification – In the past, Ziegler says, work in this area focused mainly on ensuring that SSTS installers were qualified and properly licensed for the work they were doing. But, he adds, it’s important to ensure all SSTS work is done by qualified individuals. “Those who review designs, issue permits and inspect systems for local programs play a critical role in maintaining the integrity of the SSTS program.”  To that end, Ziegler said it is important that a ‘qualified employee’ with the appropriate training signs-off on statements that certify work is being completed in accordance with requirements.


“These statements are an important way for us to know who is accountable for the work that’s being done,” Ziegler says. "They are required on design reports, as-builts, inspection reports and compliance management reporting. The MPCA is actively working to hold all qualified professionals accountable for their quality of work. Please notify SSTS regional staff if you suspect that someone is working without a license, outside of their authorizations, or has quality of work issues."

Ziegler expressed appreciation to MOWA members who have worked on the Need-to-Know process for SSTS specialty areas, “especially steering committee members who have volunteered many hours to dig into the weeds on a number of issues. The MPCA is committed to this process as the way to periodically update and align the job tasks, curriculum priorities and exam competencies that warrant certification for SSTS professionals.” Since 2013, six of nine task analyses and validation surveys have been completed and five of nine exams have been updated and piloted.

Enforcement – The MPCA was granted ticketing authority in 2014. Twelve citations were issued during 2015/16. Nine were for failure to submit as-builts, four for unlicensed work violations and three for not acquiring a needed permit. Some citations included multiple violations. The 2015/16 citations resulted in a total of $6,500 in penalties.


Volunteer recognition – “The SSTS program is nothing without its stakeholders,” Ziegler said. “We are so fortunate to have such committed partners in the delivery and improvement of this program.” More than 50 SSTS professionals contributed at least 2,000 hours serving on the SSTS Advisory Committee, Technical Advisory Panel, Implementation and Enforcement Task Force and Need-to-Know/Exam Development efforts.

“This contribution is the equivalent of one full-time employee,” Ziegler said, “a ‘super’ FTE with 50 different perspectives and viewpoints.” More volunteer opportunities are available. Contact Aaron Jensen or Nick Haig at the MPCA if you would like to explore where the current needs are.

Climate change, infrastructure focus seen as opportunities for SSTS professionals


While people often focus on the negative aspects of change, it also brings opportunities. Dave Gustafson with the University of Minnesota Onsite Sewage Program spoke to the MOWA group about opportunities that climate and political change might bring for SSTS professionals.

He began by mentioning the recent election. “As an industry we need to be ready to be part of the push for upgrading the nation’s infrastructure. It’s coming and we don’t want to miss that. We need to be ready to talk about how onsites are a positive and affordable choice for wastewater infrastructure. That voice needs to be at the table of wastewater infrastructure discussions. And we need to be at the table in a positive way… we need to do a better job of discussing issues so that everyone is part of the ‘win.’ ”

Stormwater -- Gustafson said climate change is bringing heavier rains and higher groundwater levels. “We need to follow our codes, protecting to worst case scenarios… A focus on stormwater will provide opportunities for stormwater services and have an impact on our designs. Maintenance issues will become a bigger thing… as an industry we need to help our customers better maintain their systems.”

Water softeners -- When it comes to the impact water softeners have on septic systems, Gustafson said it’s clear that it makes a difference what kind of water softener home owners pick. “Good” water softeners don’t have a negative impact on soil absorption. By good he means systems that recharge based on flow/usage, not time, as excessive/unnecessary discharges are mainly the issue, not chemistry, when it comes to water softeners posing a problem to septic systems. He added some advanced type IV systems shouldn’t have softener recharge go into them and so water softeners shouldn’t be used with advanced systems.

Flushable wipes -- “Companies say THEIR wipes are not causing the problem. They need to be kept out of the system,” Gustafson says.

Restaurant system upgrades – “Work with restaurants on getting practices changed to correct problems before upgrading and then work with them to evaluate, select and implement the right system for a particular site,” Gustafson said. Adequate testing is required to help designers and customers come up with the right solution.

Finally, Gustafson said because of issues like drug-resistant bacteria, SSTS professionals need to be careful how they work and practice safe habits when exposed to septage, such as during land application.

MPCA retirees receive MOWA lifetime achievement award

Recent MPCA retirees Mark Wespetal and Barb McCarthy hold a copy of the Minnesota rules pertaining to septic systems they helped write, just one of many accomplishments for which they were honored with MOWA lifetime achievement awards in Duluth.

Presenters highlighted Mark’s integrity and commitment to basing rules on the best science available and Barb’s low-key but persistent efforts to build a top-notch SSTS program for Minnesota. The word “persistent” was emphasized. Joining them were two others retired from the MPCA SSTS program, Gretchen Sabel and Pat Shelito.


Car wash facilities and SSTS: keep it simple


By Cody Robinson

The MPCA has received a number of questions regarding permitting car wash facilities for SSTS. Questions are understandable, as these unique facilities pose some difficult challenges for designers and permitting authorities alike. The purpose of this article is to point out some necessary determinations that need to be made, along with an agency-recommended solution to make this process as simple as placing your vehicle in neutral and taking your foot off the brake.

Is the waste Industrial, hazardous or septic?

To begin, lets step back to some design considerations and determine what kinds of wastes will be generated at these facilities, as the designations of wastewater will vary depending on the type of car wash facility being proposed.

All wash water generated from washing the exterior of vehicles is considered industrial waste subject to regulation from the industrial wastewater (NPDES) program.

Next, if the car wash will have capabilities for washing engine compartments or vehicle undercarriages, then the wastewater is determined to be hazardous waste subject to regulations from the MPCA and EPA’s hazardous waste program.

Lastly, if the car wash facility proposes to have bathrooms, or anything that will generate waste from bathing, laundry, or culinary operations, the waste is considered sewage subject to the MPCA’s SSTS program (assuming SSTS is going to be used).

For designers, the biggest challenge is determining a design flow for these types of facilities. Car washes are subject to highly variable flows and surges depending on many factors, some of which include: weather, time of year, car wash technology utilized, and water reuse applications.

For regulators, the main difficulty is determining which regulations are applicable based on the type of facility, and the types of waste entering the treatment train.

What's the solution? Separate waste streams

What is the simplest solution? Separate those waste streams! Subsurface sewage treatment systems are sophisticated methods designed for treating sewage. Additionally, Minn. R. Chapter 7080 only covers treatment and discharge of sewage.

If any other types of wastewater are mixed with sewage, all applicable regulations are required to be met. Simply put, it is not cost-effective or time-efficient to utilize sophisticated sewage treatment technology for the treatment of highly variable non-sewage flows. Once the waste streams are separated, it becomes significantly less complicated to meet the regulations for each type of waste being generated and determine "other establishment" design flow out of Minn. R. Chapter 7081.

It is also important to note that car wash facilities fall under the EPA Underground Injection Control Program, and inventory information about the well must be submitted to the EPA. You can find more information on Class V reporting on the EPA’s website. For more information on the NPDES program, feel free to visit the MPCA’s industrial wastewater webpage. For information on hazardous waste, visit the MPCA’s hazardous waste reporting and licensing for businesses webpage. Lastly, for the treatment of sewage via SSTS, please visit the MPCA’s SSTS webpage.

If you have any other questions about permitting car wash facilities, please feel free to call Cody Robinson (MPCA) at (651) 757-2535 or email at

If you haven't yet, complete and return your tank fee submission form for tanks installed in 2016


Submission forms for tanks installed in 2016 were sent to all installers. If you haven't already, please double check the number of septic tanks you installed during 2016 with your local units of government and return the completed form to Sadie Wunder in the Brainerd MPCA office ASAP.

Remember, you need to return the tank installation submission form even if you did not install any tanks in 2016. If you did not install any tanks in 2016, place a zero on the form where it asks for the number of tanks installed in 2016.

The MPCA will use the information you provide to generate an invoice you will receive in April.