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 In areas called "unsewered communities," outdated or poorly functioning septic tanks still allow untreated wastewater into our waters.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 Iowa 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. 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 assistance and information available for unsewered 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 your community search and apply for funding to install a wastewater system, there are also other funding opportunities to consider.

Funding Options:

Community leaders will want to hire an engineer to evaluate the community's needs and propose solutions. The Iowa DNR has developed 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, evaluate options, discuss the affordability of each option and decide where to apply for funding. Community leaders may want to hold public meetings to determine which options are best for the 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 Iowa DNR disadvantaged community rules implement Iowa Code 455B.199B, which establishes criteria for the Iowa 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.

Owners of wastewater disposal systems may apply for disadvantaged status when there are new requirements in a proposed or reissued NPDES permit. Unsewered communities may apply for disadvantaged status prior to the issuance or amendment of an administrative order with new requirements. In addition, disposal system owners and unsewered communities may apply for consideration of a disadvantaged community loan interest rate under the Clean Water State Revolving Fund program. 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