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Swimming in sewage: Grant funds available to upgrade septic systems

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news Alexandria, 56308
Alexandria Minnesota 225 7th Ave E
P.O. Box 549

Looking for a new place to canoe, kayak, swim and fish in Minnesota? One may be on its way, at least for future generations.

Douglas County has entered into an agreement with Chippewa County and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) for a Minnesota clean water partnership project. The Chippewa River Accelerated Restoration project aims to clean up the water for better environmental and recreational opportunities.


The MPCA is in the process of reviewing a proposed work plan and will loan $100,000 to Douglas County for approved best management practices work projects. Douglas County is a loan sponsor. Chippewa, Kandiyohi, Swift and Pope counties are also loan sponsors.

The Chippewa River is on the impaired waters list for turbidity and bacteria. Because of this, septic systems for households in proximity to the river need to be up-to-date.

Beginning in southeastern Otter Tail County, the 130-mile long river drains from watersheds in Douglas, Grant, Stevens, Pope, Swift, Kandiyohi and Chippewa counties. Of the 41,000 residents in the area, half live in 31 small communities and half reside in rural areas. The urban population is serviced by municipal sewage treatment facilities, whereas an estimated 50 percent of rural households have non-compliant septic systems.

Douglas County Auditor/Treasurer Char Rosenow explained that the loan funds are available for taxpayers to upgrade septic systems with low interest loans. Taxpayers are able to repay the loans through special assessments on their real estate taxes. Replacement of failing septic system treatment systems (SSTS) has proved to be effective in reducing fecal coliform bacteria, according to the Chippewa River Accelerated Restoration Project Work Plan.

E. coli levels are higher during the warmer months. In 2009 and 2010 sample tests of E. coli were higher than standard. Residents of the Chippewa watershed are advised against swimming in the Chippewa River between June and August. If residents do not heed the warning, they should keep their heads above water, not get river water in their mouth and should shower after swimming.

The watershed spans 1.3 million acres; one of the largest of the Minnesota River. The Chippewa River empties into the Minnesota River at Montevideo.

Jerry Haggenmiller of the Douglas Soil and Water Conservation District has been designated as project representative of the implementation of the Chippewa River Accelerated Restoration Clean Water Partnership Project for Douglas County.

Counties will accept loan applications from landowners, conduct SSTS inspections and permitting, submit the loan requests to the MPCA, pay contractors and conduct outreach and education for the loan program. Between September 2012 and September 2015, each county has been designated an allotment: Pope ($400,000), Kandiyohi ($200,000), Swift ($200,000) and Douglas ($100,000).

Landowners can contact loan sponsors in their county for more information: Haggenmiller in Douglas County can be reached at (320) 793-6191, extension 3 or, Eric VanDyken in Kandiyohi at (320) 231-6229, extension 5257 or, Anthony Wulf in Pope at (320) 634-5739 or and Scott Collins or Pam Larson in Swift at (320) 843-2356 or

DeyCrystal Dey Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota's Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter at @CrystalDey_Echo.