MPCA SSTS Bulletin

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SSTS Bulletin

January 2014

MOWA conference "Building Bridges" in Duluth Jan. 27-29


The Minnesota Onsite Wastewater Association is holding its 2014 conference Jan. 27– 29 in Duluth. The theme this year is  “Creating Connections – Building Bridges Together.”

Keynote speakers are Dr. Jerry Tyler from Wisconsin, Dan Olson with the Iowa Department of Environmental Quality, and Tom Fritts, President of the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association, along with a closing keynote/MPCA update presented by MPCA Municipal Division Director Mark Schmitt.

Concurrent sessions will feature presentations on control panels, service provision and maintenance, design and inspection, Minnesota rules, and a continued emphasis on business management. MPCA speakers will share information on grants, legislative initiatives, licensing concerns, technical issues and tank registration.  

CEUs will be offered in both Minnesota and Wisconsin. Go to the MOWA website for more registration information.

Last year the convention featured a Backhoe Roe-D-Hoe competition, where participants competed to see who was quickest at putting a small backhoe through its paces. This year, MOWA is offering a new entertainment option the evening of the 27th, a tour of the Canal Park Brewery from 5 to 9 p.m. It's fun to think about how combining a Roe-D-Hoe with a brewery tour would turn out. Here's how the MPCA's Gretchen Sabel did at the Roe-D-Hoe last year even without a brewery tour in the equation.


Tank/license fees keep Minnesota SSTS program top notch


The MPCA’s SSTS program is supported by funds from Minnesota’s Environmental Fund. Support for the county grants and low-income fix-up grants comes from the Clean Water Fund. Revenues raised by SSTS tank fees ($25 per installation) and SSTS licensing fees (ranging from $200 to a maximum of $400) go into the Environmental Fund. Together, these fees generate about $700,000 annually. This fund also receives revenue from MPCA permit fees, other MPCA license/registration/certification fees, enforcement penalties, solid waste taxes and the tire fee we all pay when we buy a car. The Minnesota Legislature then appropriates funds back to programs and SSTS is one of these.


Fees support five main program areas

LeeAnn Weigt from Olson's Sewer and Excavating, a licensed installer business out of Forest Lake, recently asked via email for more information about the revenue generated from the tank fee and where it goes. "Information on how the money is used could be helpful in creating an understanding of benefits to the industry and consumers," she wrote. "It can be a bit overwhelming for a small business owner to look at the dollar amounts generated by the fees and relate this to their own profit and loss, especially after a few tough economic years where most of us had to do more with less."

"I'm sure others like LeeAnn would like to know more about how the fees are used too," says the MPCA's Gretchen Sabel. "The tank and licensing fees are helping the SSTS program at the state and local level in many ways."

In 2011, the Environmental Fund received about $720,000 from SSTS license/tank fees. The MPCA in turn received $1,115,000 from the Environmental Fund, which included funds for county grants ($80,000) and general program support.

MPCA funding from the Environmental Fund from license and tank fees goes to support the following five general areas:

  • New technology review
  • Technical assistance for local programs
  • Training for professionals
  • Program planning, and
  • Enforcement

For example...

New technology review - The MPCA has initiated a list of registered treatment and distribution products for use in SSTS. Thanks to the funds provided, the list now includes:

  • 34 registered treatment products for residential use
  • 32 proprietary products and
  • 2 public-domain designs,
  • 3 registered products for treatment of high-strength waste, and
  • 20 distribution products (chambers, synthetic rock bundles and natural rock).

Registration materials provided include management plans, draft operating permit templates and links to manufacturer manuals with specific information on how to use these products in Minnesota systems. These products offer many more options for homeowners and the designers who work with them.

The SSTS sewage tank registration process/list has been folded into this effort. There are now nearly 1000 tank models registered from 39 tank manufacturers, including both concrete and plastic tanks. The tank registration process ensures that tanks used in Minnesota are strong and water tight. More information on this is found on the Product Registration page.

Technical assistance/enforcement - The MPCA uses revenue from the tank fee to support staff in our regional offices (Detroit Lakes, Brainerd, Marshall and Rochester) who work with SSTS professionals in both government and private practice to build understanding of program requirements and to conduct compliance activities to build a level playing field for all who work in the industry.

Program planning - Program planning activities include the work that goes into supporting the septic rules. Now that the rule-update process is completed, this work has shifted to implementation and rule support. This includes the training that MPCA staff provide to those who participate in the University of Minnesota’s pre-licensure classes and in a variety of continuing education settings across Minnesota (University of Minnesota, MOWA and other venues like county contractor meetings, supplier spring meetings, etc). The MPCA is also working with local governments to accelerate compliance – seeking to identify problem individual homes and communities with ongoing wastewater concerns. This work results in many upgrades occurring across the state. Today, more than half of permits issued by local governments are for SSTS upgrades, a definite change from the past.


Training is also provided for local units of government. For example, last year the MPCA provided a series of videos for local SSTS program administrators that spell out state requirements and other helpful information.  

License fees also directly support the SSTS licensing team. This group is working to maintain and improve our licensing program as well as update the need-to-know basis for all training, update exams, accredit courses and provide an effective link for checking on license and registration status

These are a few examples of how the tank and license fees support an effective program that is helping to move the industry forward in terms of professionalism and quality. As evidence of that, last year at the annual MOWA conference, one of the keynote speakers, Mark Adams of the California Onsite Wastewater Association, praised Minnesota for adopting certification requirements for septic professionals and implementing SSTS ordinances that are uniform and consistent across the state, neither of which is true in California, he said.

SSTS Talking Tour resumes, coming to a town near you

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By Gretchen Sabel

The MPCA SSTS Talking Tour takes off in full force soon. Last year the MPCA hosted 16 sessions that drew more than 100 people representing 63 counties, 43 cities, 22 townships, a joint powers board and a sanitary district. We are looking forward to meeting with our partners and stakeholders again this year.

However, there has been a slight change in plans. Winter weather is taking its toll on the Talking Tour schedule. Given the fact it will be cold enough that the Governor has cancelled school for Jan 6, we asked our boss, Jim Ziegler, if he thought it would be advisable to stick to our planned schedule. 

Jim said, “The weather on Monday (Jan. 6) is not going to be just cold, it is going to be dangerously cold. I recommend we reschedule and stay closer to home on Monday. Since you would have to travel Monday to get to the meeting on Tuesday, and Tuesday is not going to be a whole lot better, I suggest rescheduling Tuesday also. We will still get the work done. Just a bit later. -- Jim”

The schedule above reflects the changes due to weather plus two other reschedules due to conflicts.

At these meetings we are open to talking about whatever is on the minds of those who attend, but we also have a list of potential topic areas people might want to discuss:

  • What is the MPCA doing to support LGU ordinance work?
  • Will the MPCA attend meetings when requested? 
  • Public relations issues associated with ordinance adoption
  • When is a State SDS Permit Required (vs. a local permit)?
  • Alternative local standards
  • The ordinance process and submittal requirements

Many of these meetings conclude within two hours, but we schedule three-hour time slots just in case there are many people who want to talk or work on an issue.

Thanks to those who have agreed to host these meetings. We appreciate all the help we had in finding good locations.

SSTS - who to call