Wastewater Management: On-Site

Challenge

Due to the inability of traditional infrastructure strategies to service lower-density and distributed rural settlements, rural homeowners often do not have access to sewer systems and, therefore, must manage wastewater on-site via decentralized systems (i.e.: septic systems and drain fields). Depending on the topography and soils on the site, installing a legally permitted septic system can be cost prohibitive. From a regulatory standpoint, the inability to install a permitted septic system is often the single impediment to securing conventional lending required for new construction. 

Opportunity & Response

In 2017, the bipartisan “Rural Septic Tank Access Act” was passed as an amendment to the Farm Bill. While conceptually a step in the right direction, this funding fell short in two key areas: 1) it did not provide enough funding to cover the total cost of replacing existing substandard septic systems, and 2) it was designed to be delivered as an additional loan to the homeowner, increasing the total cost of construction as much as 20%, and thus making the required financing out of reach. Rural Studio provided public feedback on the program to our legislators, and in early 2020 they reintroduced the bipartisan “Decentralized Wastewater Grant Act of 2020” to both the House and Senate. This act proposes to allocate EPA funding as grants to homeowners (vs. loans) and increases the amount of individual funding available to cover the entire cost of construction.

Implementation