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SC county mission: Find all septic systems

Pam Quinn of the St. Croix County Planning and Zoning Department checks out the county website where permits of septic systems are stored.

The planning and zoning department is on a continuing mission to locate all the septic systems in St. Croix County and log them in a database.

Pam Quinn, zoning specialist, and Ryan Yarrington, zoning technician, are charged with the task for the department and reminding citizens that septic tanks should be inspected and pumped a minimum of every three years.

The mission is not the whimsy of a local bureaucrat or politician, however.

Finding and informing the owners of all the sewer systems in the countryside is mandated by state law enacted in 2008.

"We are required to do this to prove we have done due diligence," said Quinn.

In the process, the planning and zoning department is gearing up to send out postcards at the end of March reminding residents of the required periodic maintenance of their Private Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (POWTS) and asking for the last date it was inspected or pumped.

The postcards' request usually bring a flood of phone calls to Quinn's attention. She is quick to point out that she and Yarrington are not the "Sewage Police," but simply complying with the law in an effort to protect ground water.

"We aren't going to ticket anybody," she said. "If you get a card and all you have is a pole shed on the property, call us and tell us, tell us if there isn't a house on the property."

Quinn said all septic permits are being scanned and are placed on the county website.

If a resident has a failing septic system that needs to be replaced and it was installed before July 1, 1978, there is help through a state grant program.

"If the sewer system has not been pumped in three years, but the house is only occupied by two people who go south in the winter, we understand it may not need to be pumped," Quinn said.

The most recent prior information the county had on POWTS was recorded in 1978. There has been a boom in population then a crunch in the economy since, that has affected the situation.

The population boom also spiked the request for permits to install septic systems. The economic crunch forced a record number of foreclosures and created unused systems, some never used, some abandoned.

"Some people have moved into the countryside that always lived in the city. It's their first time on a well and septic system. They will call us and ask when we are sending them a water bill," Quinn said.

She estimated there are some 15,000 POWTS in the county and her department has 18,000 permits on record.

"Some households have multiple units," she said as she illustrated one such residence logged on the website that had three different permits for additions and changes in the system.

Quinn said it's good land stewardship to maintain your septic system. A failed system can be a health hazard.

"It's important to maintain the system before it backs up into the basement and ruins the carpet," Quinn said.

For more information, consult the planning and zoning department at the county's

Click on departments, then click on P through Z followed by planning and zoning, code administration, sanitary program. Or call Quinn or Yarrington at (715) 386-4680.