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Private Septic Systems

SepticSmart Week Is September 18 to 22, 2023

SepticSmart Week Seal 2023

Get ready for this annual event from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency centered on encouraging homeowners and communities to care for and maintain their septic systems. Communities, local groups, and state governments can bring attention to the importance of caring for and maintaining septic systems by organizing homeowner education events, sponsoring workshops, or sharing social media from the SepticSmart program. 

Learn more about SepticSmart Week. 

Follow these SepticSmart quick tips every day: 

  • Think at the Sink! Learn what not to put down your kitchen sink (such as fats, oils, or greases), how to properly dispose of food waste and how to use cleaning supplies in moderation. 
  • Don't Strain Your Drain! Learn about the importance of using water efficiently, staggering water use of water- based appliances and using energy efficient appliances. 
  • Keep It Clean! Learn about the importance of testing your well water, and its relationship to your septic system. 
  • Shield Your Field! Learn about your septic system’s drainfield, including how it works, and tips to take care of it. 
  • Protect It and Inspect It! Learn about a typical septic system inspection, how often an inspection should be performed and considerations for advanced systems. 
  • Don't Overload the Commode! Learn about what can be flushed down the toilet, and what should be thrown in the trash. 
  • Pump Your Tank! Learn about a typical septic tank pump-out service, and how a septic tank works.

Did you know? One in five U.S. homes have septic systems. Proper use of septic systems safeguards public health by reducing exposure to pathogens in drinking water and preventing harmful diseases. Learn more about septic systems here.

Career opportunities and workforce development are needed in the decentralized wastewater industry. The decentralized wastewater sector encompasses thousands of well-paying jobs that contribute to healthy communities, clean environments, and strong economies. However, the sector is currently experiencing a shortage of qualified workers to design, install, maintain, and inspect these systems. Learn more about these workforce needs. 

General Information:

In Iowa, local boards of health have primary responsibility for regulation of onsite wastewater treatment systems (also known as a private sewage disposal systems) serving 4 homes or fewer or less than 15 people, while the Iowa DNR has primary responsibility for larger (public) systems. In conducting their activities, counties must comply with the minimum state standards developed by the Iowa DNR. If counties fail to adopt or enforce state standards for smaller systems, the Iowa DNR has concurrent authority to require compliance with the minimum standards for onsite wastewater treatment and disposal.

Chapter 69 of the Iowa DNR administrative rules regarding onsite systems specify sitting and construction requirements relative to the primary and secondary treatment portions of sewage disposal systems, minimum depth to groundwater, minimum separation distances to potable water sources, and maximum percolation rates for soils. The rules provide design criteria for each alternative type of secondary treatment system. Counties have the authority to allow alternative or innovative performance based systems.

Licensing and Certification:

The Iowa DNR certifies time of transfer septic system inspectors for inspections at the time of sale for buildings with private sewage systems. For more information on time of transfer inspectors and certification, please see the Time of Transfer webpage.

In addition, the Iowa DNR is responsible for licensing commercial septic tank pumpers and cleaners. For more information on septic tank pumper and cleaner licensing, please see the Septic Tank Pumping webpage. The county boards of health are responsible for enforcement of the septic regulations and inspections.

General Permit #4:

Any onsite wastewater treatment system that discharges treated wastewater to a designated water of the state or a subsurface drainage tile must be monitored to ensure that it meets secondary treatment standards. To achieve these standards, all surface-discharging onsite systems must obtain coverage under NPDES General Permit #4. For more information on the requirements, please see the General Permit #4 webpage.

Sanitarian Training:

Because of the responsibility the counties have in this area, the Iowa DNR provides an annual training for new county sanitarians. The Iowa DNR actively works with the counties to improve their enforcement programs and train their staff.

The Iowa DNR has partnered with Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) to develop a training center and curriculum covering onsite (private) wastewater systems. The training is provided statewide at various locations at least 10 times annually and covers all topics related to onsite wastewater systems. The Onsite Wastewater Training Center of Iowa, located at the DMACC Ankeny campus, includes numerous displays of onsite wastewater technology. The training is designed for county sanitarians, septic system installers, pumpers, and designers, but it is open to everyone.

The Iowa Onsite Wastewater Association (IOWWA) also provides training opportunities and information regarding private septic systems in Iowa.

Onsite Funding:

Funding is available for loans to individuals to replace inadequate onsite sewer systems. Please see the following links for more information in individual septic system loans: State Revolving Fund OSWAP Loan Program and USDA Rural Development.

Iowa Administrative Code Chapters regarding septic systems and onsite wastewater:

Chapter 68: Septic Tank Cleaners
Chapter 69: Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Disposal
Chapter 93: Onsite Wastewater Systems Assistance Program

Helpful Onsite Links:

Residential Onsite Wastewater Treatment Overview
Septic System Diagram
County Sanitarian List
US EPA: Septic Systems (Onsite/Decentralized)
Onsite Wastewater Training Center
Iowa Environmental Health Association
Chapter 69 Waiver Request Form