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TINY TOWNS FACE HUGE SEWER COSTS

Belmond Independent – IA – 12/11/2008 Will everyone in Iowa’s tiny towns have to install or modify their septic tanks? That could be the result of a crackdown on small towns without sewer systems being led by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.According to Wright/Franklin County Sanitarian Earl Kalkwarf there are around 700 un-sewered towns in Iowa that are discharging septic tanks into the state’s waterways. That includes Alexander, Goodell and Rowan.”The DNR sent letters saying these towns have to come up with some sort of engineering,” Kalkwarf said. “That’s a waste of money unless the towns think they are going to be survivors and have people stay around to pay for it. A sewer system (like Belmond has) for a small town will cost millions of dollars.”

Rowan officials received a letter from the DNR and ordered an engineering study a couple of months ago. Goodell approved the design for a basic lagoon sewer system last month, but funding is still unclear. The City of Meservey California installed a sewer system several years ago.

Kalkwarf said some small towns may be “off the hook” if inspections are made and proper septic systems are installed.

A letter from the DNR to the City of Alexander said, “…the city is planning to have a private wastewater system for each individual house and business in lieu of a centralized collection and treatment system. (If so) the council must formulate a plan to see that all wastewater discharges are eliminated (from storm sewers and county tiles). The city will need to pass an ordinance requiring the upgrade of all private systems.”

Some planning must be done in Alexander by January 15.

Kalkwarf said all septic tanks must have a filter to keep solids in the tank, plus a secondary form of treatment. Some properties may not have enough space or the proper soil type to install a modern septic system. In these cases, property owners may have to group together to provide multiple-home systems. “Maybe one for each block,” the sanitarian said.

“There is some grant money available from USDA Rural Development,” Kalkwarf said. “Still, it’s going to cost the homeowners some money.

“Small septic systems are going to be cheaper than doing a complete community system where you have to put in sewer mains and a lagoon and hire an operator. Right now, each household has a septic tank (that eventually) drains into a creek. That has to stop. People will need secondary treatment, like a big leach field or something. It will cost from $2,500 to $5,000 to upgrade a working septic tank, or about $7,500 to install a whole new system.”

Several years ago in Geneva, the town required property owners to install filters to catch solids. Now those same septic systems will need the addition of a secondary treatment of some sort.

“Not everyone in Geneva was happy about digging up their yards for those filters,” the sanitarian said. “Now they’ll have to do it again for secondary treatment. These expenses can be a problem for some folks. You worry about people abandoning homes in small towns because they can’t afford the cost of a new septic system.”

“On the positive side, there are a lot of new ideas,” Kalkwarf said. “They are testing several over by Waverly. I saw a new deal from Japan just the other day that includes everything in a big plastic tank. I passed that idea on to Rowan’s engineer.”

Kalkwarf agrees with the DNR’s plan to correct uncontrolled discharge of wastewater. “People are starting to realize that our water is not be taken for granted.”


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