Rural Community Sewers

Before state wastewater standards went into effect in the 1960s, raw sewage could flow directly to a stream without treatment.  Despite the standards, this continues in many areas today. In areas called "unsewered communities," outdated or poorly functioning septic tanks still allow untreated wastewater into our waters.  The DNR works with these communities to find funding sources and alternative treatment systems and to allow adequate time to upgrade the systems.  As a number of communities across the state have shown, there are affordable options for building a community wastewater treatment system to protect residents' health and water quality.

An unsewered community doesn't have to be an incorporated city.  In this case, a "community" has 10 or more residential homes with one or more houses per acre.  It's "unsewered" if it lacks a central sewage treatment system or if most of its septic systems don't meet state standards.

There's help and information available for smaller communities. Please refer to the links below, or go to the Private septic systems page for further information.

Getting Started

Technical and financial assistance are available if your community needs to explore options for adequate wastewater treatment.  First, contact your local DNR field office or a regional utility management organization in your area for help understanding the planning process and finding financial assistance.

Regional utility management organizations (UMOs):

While a utility management organization can help people in your community search and apply for funding to install a wastewater system, there are other funding opportunities to look into.

Funding Options:

Next, your community leaders will want to hire an engineer to evaluate the community's needs and propose solutions.  The DNR offers white papers and additional information on alternative wastewater treatment options that your engineer may want to explore.  Once an engineer has prepared a plan to address the wastewater needs of your community, residents will want to review the plan.  They will want to evaluate options, discuss the affordability of each option and decide where to apply for funding.  You and your elected officials may want to hold public meetings to determine which options are best for your community.  

Disadvantaged Community Status

Some communities, urban or rural, incorporated or unincorporated, may qualify as "disadvantaged" with regards to meeting federal and state wastewater regulations.  The DNR rules that implement the 2011 disadvantaged community legislation became effective on January 16, 2013.  This rule implements Iowa Code 455B.199B as modified by Senate File 407 (SF407).  The code section and senate file establish criteria for DNR to use when determining if ratepayers or a community will experience substantial and widespread economic and social impact and qualify as disadvantaged as a result of complying with wastewater regulations.  Please see the links below for more information on how to qualify as a disadvantaged community.

For more information regarding disadvantaged community qualification, please contact Courtney Cswercko at