MPCA SSTS Bulletin

Having trouble viewing this message? View it as a webpage.
SSTS Bulletin

April 2014

Cook County SSTS inspections said key to protecting "Gateway" to Boundary Waters Canoe Area


From the Minnesota Board of Soil and Water Resources April 2014 Snapshots

Cook County is known by many as the gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a pristine treasure of natural resources. The reputation is well-earned, as demonstrated by the thousands of people who visit the area on an annual basis. Minimizing developmental impact on those resources is a priority, and Cook County and the Cook County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) are working hard to keep the lakes, rivers and streams that crisscross the land in top shape. As part of that work and consistent with the Cook County Water Plan, the county has identified septic inspections as a priority.

In a region where 91% of the land is public, the privately-held development is heavily clustered around shoreland areas. Using funding from a CWF grant, the SWCD has partnered with the Cook County Planning and Zoning Department to target three lakes, Tom Lake, Greenwood Lake, and McFarland Lake, where development pressure is high, for Subsurface Sewage Treatment System (SSTS) inspections. Monitoring data has shown two of those lakes, Tom and Greenwood, have a declining water quality trend. Without these funds, SSTS inspections wouldn’t occur unless there was new construction or voluntary upgrades.

Based on the results of the inspection program, the risk to these lakes is very real. For example, at Tom Lake 76% of the systems were found to be non-compliant and at Greenwood Lake that number hit 70%, with ten systems deemed imminent public health threats. Inspections on McFarland Lake are currently in process. Thanks to these inventories, the county has been able to proactively address these water quality threats and protect the lakes and the people who live on them. The Lake Superior North Watershed has waters that are a destination for people around the country, a resource for Minnesota and beyond, and keeping those waters healthy matters. Inspection programs like this one are making a positive impact on regional water quality now and for the future.

It’s a community effort, Cook County SWCD Water Plan Coordinator Ilena Berg says. “We are very lucky to have really committed citizens and lake associations who have been very engaged in this process. Between their efforts and the work of the Planning and Zoning Department, we’re working toward a goal of 100% compliance on all our lakes.” Next on tap for the program: inspections on properties along Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake by volume in North America.

Boy's fall into septic tank underscores need to keep lids secure; secondary restraint a good idea


By Mark Wespetal, MPCA

Recently, seven-year-old Noah Laehn fell into an SSTS pump tank in his aunt’s yard in the city of Blue Earth. He said that he was running and stepped onto the tank lid, which slipped and caused him to fall into the tank. He fell 10 feet into two feet of effluent (the tank had recently been pumped).

Officers from the Fairbault County Sheriff’s Office responded to the 911 call and helped the boy out of the tank with a ladder. Noah was wet and dirty but unhurt. Fortunately, the effluent level in the tank was low and he did not hit his head during the fall. 

The possibility of a child falling into a septic tank is a very serious concern. It is critical that maintenance hole covers are checked for soundness, replaced over the riser, and firmly secured any time work is performed, whether by a professional or the homeowner. Locking the lid and adding a secondary restraint  device is highly recommended. 


Speaking of tanks, Annual Report shows number of new holding tanks each year "holding" at about 400


By Barb McCarthy, MPCA

One of the questions asked in the 2013 SSTS Annual  Report to local government officials is to identify the number of holding tanks operating permits issued. This question was initially asked in 2009.

Holding tanks typically require the most active maintenance because they are required to be pumped on a regular basis, depending upon the amount of water use. Holding tanks, like all other sewage tanks, are required to be pumped by a licensed SSTS maintenance business that properly disposes of the sewage pumped from the tank.

The annual report data for holding tanks was tabulated for the past five years (see Figure 1 above). The total number of holding tank operating permits was reported at 1,891 systems. The number of new permits reported per year ranged from 294 in 2009 to 493 in 2010.  

The photo below shows the installation of a holding tank for a family’s seasonal hunting shack. The tank was insulated with foam at the tank manufacturing plant. The insulation helps to keep the tank and its content from freezing. Both the risers and inspection pipes are cast into the lid of the tank to help keep the tank watertight. The tank was kept pretty shallow due to high groundwater conditions at the site.