MPCA SSTS Bulletin

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SSTS Bulletin

January 2021 edition

SSTS rule changes effective Jan. 11

New subsurface sewage treatment system (SSTS) rules pertaining to compliance inspections and State Disposal System (SDS) permit requirements were adopted into rule on January 4 and are effective January 11, 2021.

The specific Minnesota rule parts that have been amended are 7081.0020, 7081.0040, 7081.0130, and 7082.0700. Information and documents pertaining to the rulemaking process can be found on the MPCA website.   

These rule modifications can be broken down into three main changes:

  • SDS permit requirements
  • flow equalization, and
  • existing system tank inspections.

SDS Permit requirements

This change allows for the use of measured wastewater flow, corrected for occupancy, in determining SDS permit applicability on existing SSTS. Flow measurements for this purpose will require 90 days of daily flow measurements; 40 additional, consecutive, weekly flow measurements; and occupancy/use measurements.

This new rule also introduces a new definition, "SSTS with low impact to potable water,” which will allow some SSTS to be excluded from flow calculations in determining when an SDS permit is required. System designations as “low impact to potable water” can only be made by an appropriately licensed Architecture, Engineering, Land Surveying, Landscape Architecture, Geoscience and Interior Design board professional (specifically a Geologist, Soil Scientist, or Engineer) and must meet all design requirements of Minn. R. 7080 – 7083.

The main takeaway from the SDS portion of the rule update is that there is now additional flexibility allowed in determining when a state permit is required. Please note that this rule does not affect flow calculations related to ISTS or MSTS, nor does it change technical requirements of system design under 7080 and 7081. 

Flow equalization

This change allows, “systems not designed for maximum, seven-day, daily use” to determine flow amounts based on a seven-day average. For example, a restaurant only open on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday could determine an appropriate flow amount for system design by spreading the flow from the three business days out over the entire seven-day week. This change provides flexibility to other establishments where flows are concentrated on certain days of the week and where designing system components on peak flows versus average flows may be unnecessary. Flow equalization using this new rule is only allowed after approval from the local unit of government.

Existing system tank inspections

Moving into 2021 and beyond, the only way to pass a sewage tank for a compliance inspection will be to have viewed the tank while empty. Specifically, the new rule language in Minn. R. 7082.0700 subp. 4 B (1) reads, “Tank integrity and safety compliance assessments must be completed by a licensed SSTS inspection, maintenance, installation, or service provider business or a qualified employee inspector with jurisdiction. A compliant tank integrity assessment must be completed on an empty tank, through a maintenance hole when available [emphasis added], and is valid for three years unless a new evaluation is requested by the owner or owner's agent or is required according to local regulations.”

This means that the only ways an inspector can certify that a tank is complaint are to have a tank integrity assessment from within the past three years (stating compliance) attached to the inspection form, or for an inspector to view the tank(s), while empty, during the course of an inspection. Additionally, if the tank is known to be noncompliant, no pump out and visual inspection would be required in order to fail the tank.

As a portion of updating these rules, the MPCA has made changes to the following documents –

  • Compliance inspection form (wq-wwists4-31b)
  • Instructions for compliance inspection form (wq-wwists4-31a)
  • Sewage tank maintenance reporting form (wq-wwists4-38)
  • Prescriptive designs and design guidance for advanced designers (wq-wwists4-44)

Additionally, a new document – Sewage tank integrity assessment form (wq-wwists4-91) has been created.

These documents are all available on the agency webpage, as are the most up-to-date versions of all other agency forms/fact sheets.

More specifically, the updated compliance inspection form, updated compliance inspection form instructions, and new Sewage tank integrity assessment form are located here

The updated Sewage tank maintenance reporting form is located here

The updated Prescriptive designs and design guidance for advanced designers is located here


Note: All SSTS inspectors are required to use the most up-to-date version of the MPCA compliance inspection form. As such, as of Jan. 11, 2021, all inspections should be submitted on the updated form and LGUs should only accept inspections on the updated form. The easiest way to determine if the correct form is being used is by verifying the new MPCA logo (pictured) in the upper left corner of the form.

Local ordinance modification

The agency does not anticipate these new rules will necessitate local ordinance modifications for most but there may be jurisdictions where ordinance modification will be required. As a reminder, Minn. R. 7082.0040 subp. 2 A requires, “All counties must adopt and implement SSTS ordinances in compliance with chapters 7080 and 7081,” and Minn. R. 7082.0040 subp. 3 requires, “Cities and townships with SSTS ordinances must effectively administer and enforce an ordinance that conforms with this chapter and is administratively and technically as strict as the county ordinance.”

In the event an ordinance modification is required, Minn. R. 7082.0050 subp. 2 states that, “A copy of all local ordinances regulating SSTS and all future ordinances or amendments must be submitted to the commissioner 30 days prior to adoption.” Please communicate with your regional compliance and enforcement staff with any questions you may have.

Successful implementation of these rule modifications depends on the consistent application of the changes across the state, by everyone. As these rule modifications have been widely discussed with many professionals and LGU staff it is likely that most have heard some, or all, of the above information previously; but if not, please do not hesitate to reach out to MPCA SSTS staff with any questions.

An important discussion on proper maintenance

Most SSTS professionals believe septic tank pumping through the maintenance access is standard industry practice adopted by all; however, the agency still receives complaints that not all professionals are properly servicing sewage tanks statewide. These complaints suggest that pumping through an inspection pipe is more common than most would expect. This article will clarify roles, rules, and responsibilities for SSTS professionals who are involved with routine maintenance of sewage tanks and those who provide oversight of these activities. Please review the following information regarding the proper maintenance of sewage tanks as it relates to SSTS homeowners, their systems, and the SSTS industry as a whole.

Removing all solids and liquids from all tanks and compartments

Minn. R. 7080.2450 subp. 3 A requires the following: “All solids and liquids must be removed by pumping from all tanks or compartments in which the top of the sludge layer is less than 12 inches from the bottom of the outlet baffle or transfer hole or whenever the bottom of the scum layer is less than three inches above the bottom of the outlet baffle or transfer hole.”

This provision mandates the removal of all solids and liquids when specific conditions exist. The obvious driver behind routine maintenance on sewage tanks is to protect SSTS components further in the treatment train and extend system life; therefore, it is essential all solids and liquids are removed at every routine maintenance event. Common techniques to agitate and remove all solids in a tank include back-flushing effluent into a tank, light scraping, and proprietary accessories designed to mix tank contents for better removal. Leaving a site without removing all solids and liquids from every tank requiring service is considered improper/incomplete maintenance and fails to meet the minimum requirements of rule. This includes all compartments in multi-compartment tanks and pump tanks that may exist on the site. It is important to understand the tank configuration on the system you’re servicing in order to effectively complete the job.


The only compliant method prescribed for solids removal

In addition, Minn. R. 7080.2450 subp. 3 B clearly states, Removal of accumulated sludge, scum, and liquids from septic tanks and pump tanks must be through the maintenance hole [emphasis added]. The removal of solids from any location other than the maintenance hole is not a compliant method of solids removal from a sewage tank, and this method does not fulfill the solids removal requirement of this part or a management plan.”

Requiring solids removal through the maintenance hole has been a staple of Minnesota rule for a quarter-century now (1996), and as stated above, is the only compliant location for solids removal. This rule prescribes a standardized method to achieve compliance with subp. 3 A above, as pumping solely through an inspection pipe is insufficient practice for complete removal of all solids in a tank. Additionally, jamming a hose down an inspection pipe can damage or dislodge tank baffles placing the system in a worse condition than when the maintainer arrived. Pumping through the maintenance hole promotes visual confirmation that all solids are removed and affords additional mobility in maneuvering the hose around the entire tank/compartment. Moreover, a maintainer who visually observes an empty tank through the maintenance hole is able to identify cracks, leaks, baffle conditions, and excessive corrosion compromising the structural integrity of the tank.

SSTS homeowners who refuse proper maintenance

There are circumstances where a homeowner refuses pumping through the tank maintenance hole. This often occurs when maintenance holes are non-existent or not easily accessible from the surface. In circumstances where maintenance holes are non-existent or not easily accessible, there is a business opportunity to provide ancillary services in installing risers and bringing maintenance holes to the surface; thereby, making system maintenance and the maintainer’s work effective and efficient. 

In the past, Minnesota rules mandated maintenance hole installation during service to allow for proper maintenance to occur. Current rule offers more flexibility by placing additional responsibility on maintainers when the refusal of proper maintenance happens. Minn. R. 7083.0770 subp. 2 C indicates maintenance licensees must: “obtain a signed statement if the owner refuses to allow the removal of solids and liquids through the maintenance hole.” The flexibility afforded by this rule covers situations when imminent pumping is needed, such as sewage backing up into the home or yard. This also assumes the homeowner is fully aware that pumping through the inspection pipe provides marginal benefit to their system regarding routine maintenance and system longevity. In order to satisfy the requirements and intent of the rule, a maintainer must inform the homeowner of the lack of long-term benefits from inspection pipe pumping before the system is pumped, and obtain a signed statement of refusal.

Communicating the importance of routine maintenance to SSTS homeowners is regularly done using the analogy of an oil change in your vehicle. Communicating this way helps convey the positive outcomes of routine maintenance, the effect on soil treatment areas, and system lifespan in relatable terms. Elaborating on the oil change analogy, having your system pumped through an inspection pipe is similar to having your oil simply topped off, but not actually changed. A top-off is reasonable if you have a bigger issue, such as an oil leak, but at some point the vehicle will fail due to the lack of proper maintenance. The worst-case scenario is someone paying for an oil change service, not getting the oil change (i.e. topped off or pumped via inspection pipe), and driving off thinking they’ve done something productive with their effort and money. Meanwhile, that company gains an unfair advantage; they are now capable of performing maintenance at a faster rate and lower cost than their competitors, all at the owners’ expense.


Rule language states that only the system owner can choose to accept the liability for inadequate maintenance of their system. In other words, the only way a homeowner can refuse pumping through a maintenance hole is if they were first presented with the choice and informed of the consequences that exist as a result of their decision. A variety of refusal statements exist throughout the state, including an example provided on the agency’s Sewage tank maintenance reporting form.

What if – after attempting to educate a homeowner on what proper maintenance looks like and explaining that obtaining a signed statement of refusal is required prior to the maintenance visit – the homeowner still refuse to sign? In those cases, a maintainer reserves the right to turn down a maintenance job prohibiting compliance with minimum rule requirements. Finally, if there is concern that the owner will simply hang up the phone and get another maintainer to perform the work outside the requirements of Minnesota rule, please read on through the last section of the article.

Some other responsibilities of certified maintainers

Minn. R. 7083.0770 subp. 2 A requires maintenance licensees to: “record pump-out date, gallons removed, any tank leakage below or above the operating depth, the access point used to remove the septage, the method of disposal, the reason for pumping, any safety concerns with the maintenance hole cover, and any troubleshooting or repairs conducted. This information must be submitted to the homeowner within 30 days after the maintenance work is performed.”

Maintainers play a critical role in ensuring SSTS owners understand the systems they own and why proper maintenance is important. The requirements outlined above help facilitate dialogue between maintainers and system owners, ensuring they receive much needed feedback about their own system status. Maintainers can use this dialogue to establish and/or potentially adjust the maintenance frequency outlined in SSTS management plans. In addition to the items above, maintainers must provide homeowners written reports of any noncompliance of their system. This ensures homeowners are formally aware of their system status and allows for proper disclosure in the event of a property transfer. Use of the agency’s Sewage tank maintenance reporting form will ensure compliance with all of the requirements above.

Keep in mind all of this information also applies to noncertified individuals working under the supervision of a certified maintainer. Minn. R. 7083.0770 subp. 3 states: “Certified maintainers must provide proper training, daily review of work, and periodic observation of work conducted by noncertified individuals.”  The rule also contains specific activities to conduct and supervise this work, but the main message is: noncertified employees working for a licensed business must meet the same requirements as any certified professional. Minnesota rules require noncertified individuals to be working under appropriate supervision and a valid business license, with responsibility falling on those who are certified.   

Ensuring a level playing field

The agency is aware that many maintainers already complete quality work and meet the industry standards outlined above; to those folks, thank you for providing genuine service to SSTS homeowners across the state. Minnesota’s SSTS professionals are known for achieving high standards, working with integrity, and ultimately operating with a shared goal to promote all aspects of the SSTS industry. That said, anyone aware of situations where SSTS homeowners are taking initiative to care for their septic systems, but are instead unknowingly getting mostly liquid pumped from their sewage tanks though an inspection pipe yielding a minimal benefit to their systems – we want to hear from you. Please refer these activities to the MPCA’s SSTS Compliance & Enforcement staff in your region (see Map of SSTS Field Staff).

The agency maintains discretion to conduct enforcement when evidence suggests minimum requirements (such as the rules described above) are not being followed. This ensures a fair and level playing field within Minnesota’s SSTS industry and that SSTS homeowners receive proper maintenance on their systems, thus protecting their valued systems, the environment, and human health.

If you have any questions on this article, please contact Cody Robinson at or 651-757-2535. 

Tank fee process

Tank fee forms were mailed in early December to every SSTS installation business that held a license for at least one day in 2020. The form is also located on our website and can be submitted via email or mail (Mel Preczewski, MPCA – 4th Floor, 520 Lafayette Road N, St. Paul, MN 55155). The form must be completed by all SSTS installation businesses and submitted to the MPCA by the end of January. 

Here are a few critical instructions regarding tank fees

  1. Do not include payment when you submit the form. You will receive an invoice after your form has been processed. Submitting payment with the form leads to invoicing errors and missing forms. This can lead to unwarranted enforcement. 
  2. Submit the form even if you did not install any tanks this year. Failure to submit the form leads to enforcement.
  3. If you submit the form via email, an automated response will be sent to you. If you do not receive a response, the MPCA did not receive your form. In which case, please try submitting the form again or reach out to staff.

More details can be found on the form itself. If you have any questions, please email Aaron Patrick or call him at 218-316-3909.

MPCA SSTS staff update


Klayton VanOverbeke has been named to the SSTS compliance and enforcement position based out of the MPCA Marshall regional office (which was previously held by Connor Hegrenes). VanOverbeke, a native of Marshall, joins the SSTS team after working in the MPCA feedlots program for the last three years. He is a graduate of Southwest Minnesota State University, which is where he met his wife. They were married in 2011 and have had three children together since. He enjoys all things outdoors, playing bean bags, Vikings football, and spending time with family and friends.


MPCA SSTS staff will continue working from home until at least July 2021. At this time, all meetings are being conducted virtually; however, field inspections, complaint investigations, and trainings are still occurring in person as required. SSTS staff are still capable of making and receiving phone calls from home, although calls from staff may show up as a blocked or private number. A lack of response from staff may be the result of a technical difficulty with transferring calls so email follow-ups are advised. Email is a good way to contact staff in general.

2021 MPCA talking tour, mini pumper courses cancelled

Due to the difficulties posed with face-to-face meetings in our current Covid-19 reality, the MPCA has decided to cancel the SSTS talking tour meetings that would have typically been held in January 2021. This decision was made in order to comply with current guidelines, recommendations, and orders as they relate to in-person gatherings.

Additionally, the agency considered options available for moving these meetings to a digital platform and decided against that venue for a few different reasons; namely, these meetings require the ability to solicit input from all participants, something that is difficult to accomplish equitably in virtual platforms. Furthermore, the agency frequently observes the benefits from gathering regional local government SSTS staff in a room and felt that this benefit would be impossible to achieve in a virtual setting. Based on these limitations, it was decided that cancelling this year’s meetings was the most appropriate course of action.

This would have been the 14th year that the MPCA hosted SSTS talking tour meetings and the agency certainly anticipates hosting these meetings again, face-to-face, when it is appropriate to do so (hopefully January 2022). In the meantime, the agency will continue to communicate important and timely information out in the SSTS Bulletin and on our webpage. Please refer to these sources as we move forward into 2021. Lastly, as always, if you have a comment/concern/question please do not hesitate to reach out to the appropriate MPCA contact.

Mini pumper courses also cancelled

In addition to the talking tour, mini pumper training courses have also been cancelled for 2021 and will be held again across the state once conditions allow. The course is intended for SSTS maintainers and typically covers the following information:

  • What is sewage?
  • What is required for record keeping?
  • Land application site setup
  • How to properly treat sewage when land applying
  • Land application site examples

Please look to future SSTS bulletins for information on MPCA mini pumper course dates and locations.

2020 SSTS Annual Report

The 2020 Annual Report survey was sent out to local SSTS programs via a web-based Snap survey on December 10, 2020. The surveys are due back to the MPCA by February 1, 2021.

Reminders for LGUs

  • A PDF copy of the survey questions is available upon request.
  • If your program has NOT received an email with a link to the survey, please contact Katie Dowlding (MPCA) as soon as possible. Some common issues surrounding survey delivery include:
    • An email system may suspect spam
    • The receiving email may be inaccurate
  • Contact Dowlding to discuss data collection and reporting strategies if needed.
  • When the survey is completed, save a copy for your own yearly record-keeping.
  • Since email is used to deliver the survey, it is important to:
    • Update the MPCA throughout the year if your program’s email contact changes
    • Confirm or update the contact information section within the survey
    • Request that the contact information section reflects the LGU’s SSTS program contact if a licensed inspection business is contracted to fill out the survey

Accurate contact information helps ensure the survey is sent to the correct person initially, facilitating better turnaround times and participation rates.

Thank you for your efforts to accurately report your program’s data. This data helps quantify the SSTS program statewide and is used in a variety of ways.

Please email Dowlding or call her at 651-757-2301 with any issues, questions, or feedback.

Fish Cleaning Shacks. Do they produce sewage?

In the land of 10,000 lakes, the convenient concept of a fish cleaning shack is nothing new for us Minnesotans. However, this convenience can cause uncertainty when it comes to handling the waste they produce. Here are disposal requirements pertinent to fish cleaning shacks.  


If a fish cleaning shack has a sink with pressurized water plumbed to it (i.e. running water), the waste produced from that sink is considered to be sewage and needs to be captured by an SSTS. On the other hand, please note that the swage produced from a sink using hand-carried water must be disposed of in accordance with Minn. R. 7080.1500 Subp. 2.

However, it is not recommended that a fish cleaning shack sink be connected to an SSTS with a drainfield. Instead, the MPCA recommends that a holding tank be used. This is especially important for frequently used fish cleaning shacks and for sinks that are unable to be fitted with a screening device to prevent scales and other debris from entering the drain. The scales and other debris from fish cleaning activities are solid waste and should be disposed of appropriately rather than in a sink or an SSTS.

Finally, keep in mind that all SSTS holding tanks are required to adhere to standard SSTS permitting requirements, including setbacks. Please contact your local permitting authority to ensure that the holding tank is permitted properly. 

Floor Drains

Fish cleaning shack floor drains used for incidental spills, floor washing, and general cleanup do not produce sewage. Therefore, an SSTS is not required for the floor drain. In fact, if the fish cleaning shack has a sink with running water and a floor drain, only the sink should be plumbed to an SSTS tank while the floor drain can be plumbed to daylight. It is important to note that while daylighting of certain wastes may be an option, daylighting of waste streams cannot result in discharges to waters of the state without appropriate state permits. If daylighting occurs it should be to the ground surface away from any ditches, streams, lakes, etc. 

If the decision is made to plumb the floor drain to the holding tank, measures should be taken to prevent scales and fish cleaning wastes from reaching the plumbing system. It is also important to keep in mind that other applicable local standards may exist that govern this waste stream so it is important to contact the local regulatory authority when working with a fish cleaning shack.

Have a story idea or a topic you'd like to learn more about? Let us know

If there are topics you would like covered in future bulletins, or if you have a great story you would like to share, please submit your ideas to Katie Dowlding. This will help ensure the SSTS Bulletin includes topics that are important to industry professionals. Topics that cannot be adequately covered in a bulletin article may be used for future continuing education topics. Thank you in advance!