The Western Piedmont Council of Governments (WPCOG) has administered a no-interest, revolving loan program for qualifying homeowners for repairing failing septic systems. This program was a partnership involving the WPCOG, Alexander, Burke, Caldwell and Catawba Counties.
When household septic systems fail, untreated sewage can contaminate the surrounding land and nearby water sources. This untreated wastewater may contain dangerous viruses and bacteria that can threaten human health as well as pollute the environment. Septic systems are designed to remove or break down contaminants contained in sewage before it enters groundwater. When these pollutants are not treated properly, bacteria and other contaminates could infiltrate nearby lakes and streams, used as public water sources.
The Unifour Counties (Alexander, Burke, Caldwell and Catawba) are among the counties having the highest densities of septic tanks in North Carolina. While actual numbers are unknown, many of these older systems are failing, and thus pose a threat both to the populace and the environment. Many of these failing systems are owned by middle and low-income residents who do not have the financial resources to pay for repair work. In addition, many local governments cannot justify extending sewer to rural areas in the region.
In 2013, the Western Piedmont Council of Governments (WPCOG) was awarded a $433,354.06 grant from the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund to help address the regional need for septic repairs. The grant established a no-interest, revolving loan program for repairing failing septic systems and straight piping in Alexander, Burke, Caldwell and Catawba Counties. The goal of the project was to repair or replace 50 septic tanks. In the end, the project exceeded expectations, and 63 septic systems were replaced or repaired.
Of the funding that was received, $307,417 was dedicated to septic system repairs. The rest of the funding was used for administration, mapping, construction coordination, and outreach. Once the program began, two factors assisted the WPCOG in public outreach. First, the counties were able to refer possible participants to the program while conducting routine field inspections. Second, referrals were made while fielding questions from the general public.
As the project comes to a close in 2015, there is still a need for more work to be done. Potential participants continue to inquire about assistance, and the counties are hoping the project continues to receive additional funding. The current partnerships with the public health departments and contractors make it important that the program be continued while there is a capacity to make an impactful and lasting change to the region.
The Unifour Septic System Repair Program is beneficial for multiple reasons including, helping low-income individuals with a much-needed expense, the public health benefits from preventing septic run-off, and the environmental benefits for water quality.