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About 22 percent of septic systems in Crawford County are non-compliant
Shedivy provides update
CRAWFORD COUNTY Zoning Technician Jake Shedivy, front right, dis-cusses the status of the county’s initiative to bring all septic systems into compliance with state standards. Shedivy was making a report to the Crawford County Land Use Committee.

CRAWFORD COUNTY -  launched a daunting initiative in 2018 to ensure that Private Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (POWTS) or septic systems in the county are compliant with code. The county has lagged behind other counties in the state, and the Zoning Department has been doing herculean work to correct the situation.

A key factor in the progress the county has made has been thanks to the availability of grant funds through the Wisconsin Fund. This fund helps homeowners repair or replace failing septic systems. If the legislature does nothing, this program is scheduled to sunset next year. Other funding has also been available for lower income residents through Couleecap and USDA.

“Approximately 800 of the total estimated 3,600 POWTS in our county remain non-compliant,” Crawford County Sanitation and Zoning Technician Jake Shedivy. “This represents about 22 percent of all POWTS in the county.”

In the last few years, after amending the county’s ordinance to require septic system compliance, Shedivy has applied for as many grant dollars from the Wisconsin Fund as possible, knowing that the program is scheduled to sunset in 2021.

“We have a great need for financial assistance to bring POWTS up to code in our county,” Shedivy said. “And even if the funds are granted and the plans approved, septic system installers in our area are a year behind because of how high the water table has been.”

Wisconsin counties and Indian tribes may apply to DSPS to participate in the Wisconsin Fund program to assist homeowners and small commercial establishments with the rehabilitation or replacement of failing onsite wastewater treatment systems. Counties participate because they are responsible for the regulation of POWTS installations. Participation in the grant program is voluntary. Crawford County withdrew after the 2000-01 grant cycle and regained eligibility for the 2018-19 grant cycle.

Since regaining eligibility, Crawford County has aggressively submitted grant applications in the last two funding cycles. For the applications due on February 1, 2020, Shedivy anticipates submitting 50-55 applications. If funded, those applications would provide county residents with about $300,000 in assistance.

County responsibilities

Counties that choose to participate in the program must:

1. Adopt a resolution stating the county will administer the program in compliance with state law and disburse state grant funds to eligible owners;

2. Agree to establish a program of inspection and maintenance for all new or replacement POWTS constructed in the county;

3. Establish a system of user charges and cost recovery, if the county considers this to be ap-propriate, which may include the cost of the grant application fee and the cost of supervising installation and maintenance; and

4. Certify that: (a) the individual owner eligibility requirements are met; (b) the grant funds will be properly disbursed; and (c) the recipients' POWTS will be properly installed and maintained.

All counties are responsible for adoption and enforcement of the maintenance program for POWTS, whether or not a county has chosen to participate in the grant program. A county was required to conduct, complete, and maintain an inventory of all POWTS located within the jurisdiction, and complete the initial inventory before October 1, 2017. In October, 2018, 71 counties had completed their initial inventory, plus the City of Franklin and Oneida Tribe. Milwaukee County is not subject to this requirement.

A county was required to develop and begin to implement a POWTS maintenance program before October 1, 2019, that includes the inventory, and a process for recording each inspection, evaluation, maintenance and servicing report for a POWTS. In October, 2018, 71 counties had a full or partial POWTS maintenance program (all re-quired counties, which excludes Milwaukee County).

A county is required to meet the two deadlines for inventory and maintenance program in order to be eligible for funding under the Wisconsin Fund grant program. Crawford County did not participate in the grant program since 2000-01, but requested to participate in the 2018-19 grant cycle. In October, 2018, DSPS determined that the county had completed the initial inventory by the 2017 deadline, and would be eligible to participate in the 2018-19 grant cycle.

“Conducting our county’s initial POWTS inventory, working with septic maintenance providers to implement inspection schedules, and filing the grant application paperwork has taken up a lot of our department’s time and resources in the last few years,” Shedivy explained. “Now with the Wisconsin Fund scheduled to sunset, and having given POWTS owners time to take the necessary steps to come into compliance, our department’s focus will shift more to enforcement.”

Proposed legislation

Both Shedivy and Crawford County Conservationist Dave Troester have spoken in favor of the State Water Quality Task Force recommendation to push the sunset date for the Wisconsin Fund back to June 30, 2023. This proposal was originally presented as LRB 4304/1.

Assembly Bill 791 and Senate Bill 710: Assistance to Fix Failing Septic Systems, which was before the Assembly Committee on Rural Development on Tuesday, Feb. 4 and the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 5.

Septic systems can leak and contribute to groundwater quality problems. AB 791 & SB 710 would delay the sunset for the Wisconsin Fund program until June 30, 2023, which helps homeowners to repair or replace failing septic systems. The bill also provides Department of Safety and Professional Services with two staff positions to help conduct sanitary permit applications and plans reviews and assist with the program.

Septic systems can leak and contribute to groundwater quality problems. SB 710 would delay the sunset for the Wisconsin Fund program until June 30, 2023, which helps homeowners to repair or replace failing septic systems. The bill also provides Department of Safety and Professional Services with two staff positions to help conduct sanitary permit applications and plans reviews and assist with the program.

Fund history

According to the ‘Private Onsite Wastewater Treatment System Grant Program’ report by the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau in January of 2019, the Wisconsin Fund appropriated $840,000 in 2017-18 and $840,000 in 2018-19 from program revenue transferred from the Division of Industry Services (safety and buildings) operations appropriation. The program revenue is received from sanitary permits and private onsite wastewater treatment system plan review fees, and other building permit, plan review, inspection, and credentialing activities. 

Under 2015 Wisconsin Act 55, the source of funding was converted from the general fund to the program revenue appropriation. Act 55 also deleted the position and funding specifically authorized for administration of the program. DSPS administers the program with other existing POWTS regulatory and finance pro-gram staff.

There are two general types of systems utilized to treat and dispose of sewage: (a) centralized sewage collection and treatment systems; and (b) "private onsite wastewater treatment systems" (POWTS). Many areas are not served by centralized sewage systems, primarily rural areas or areas where the housing density is too low to justify a centralized sewer system. In these areas, residential or commercial development requires the use of a private onsite wastewater treatment system.

The private onsite wastewater treatment sys-tem replacement or rehabilitation grant program was created in 1978 to provide funding to address the problem of POWTS failures. From 1978 through 2018 (2018-19 grant cycle), the state has awarded $108.3 million in grants to assist 43,200 residences and businesses to replace or rehabilitate private onsite wastewater treatment systems.

Under 2017 Wisconsin Act 59, the grant program is repealed on June 30, 2021. The last year of funding for the program will be 2020-21, with final applications due February 1, 2020, and awards expected to be made later in the fall of 2020. Act 59 also repealed immediately a POWTS loan program that was never used. Administrative code revisions effective in July, 2018, repeal Chapter SPS 387 on June 30, 2021.

DSPS estimates there are 761,100 POWTS in the state. Approximately 12,000 permits were issued statewide for POWTS during calendar year 2016 and 12,500 in 2017. DSPS indicates that about 45 percent of these permits were for newly-constructed systems and 55 percent were for replacement systems. The proportion of new and replacement systems may vary substantially by county from year to year. 

In addition, an unknown number of homes that previously used POWTS are connected to centralized municipal wastewater treatment systems every year, and the private systems are no longer used. DSPS estimates of the number of POWTS have become more precise as counties complete their inventory of POWTS.