Bad winter for septic systems leads to emergency exemption for road limits
WILLMAR — It’s been a tough winter on homeowners who maintain their own septic systems.
The lack of snow early on in the season and extreme weather conditions has resulted in pipes freezing up in some septic systems, which prevents pumps from getting sewage from the home to the tank.
The problem has gotten so bad in Minnesota this year that Gov. Mark Dayton said a state of emergency exists.
On Friday he issued an emergency executive order that will allow commercial vehicles used to haul sewage to ignore recently imposed seasonal load limits on roads.
The order goes into effect immediately and will stay in place through June 1.
Kurt Garberich, co-owner of Kandi Lakes Septic Service of Lake Lillian, said he’s had 10 to 12 customers who have had their septic systems freeze up this winter.
Recent rains melted snow that served as a cover of insulation on the underground systems, making this year worse than normal, said Garberich.
When that happens, his phone rings.
Those emergency fix-it situations, combined with spring road weight limits that went into effect this week in much of the state, can make it difficult for septic companies to service customers.
The governor’s emergency executive order will exempt septic service vehicles from the seasonal load regulations.
Those restrictions are usually put in place to keep heavy trucks off local roads during the spring freeze-and-thaw season in order to prevent damage to roads.
There’s concern that if septic service vehicles cannot use local roads to haul away sewage, the frozen septic systems could leak and rupture, resulting in a public health issue.
In his order, Dayton said that it is “urgent that immediate action be taken to prevent danger to public health and to avoid further damage to septic systems.”
The exemption is only applicable to vehicles used to pump sewage from septic systems or used to transport sewage from septic systems.
Garberich said this is only the second time that he’s aware of that such an emergency executive order has been made in response to frozen septic systems.
He said the Minnesota Onsite Wastewater Association, of which he is a member, had been lobbying for the emergency order.
But Garberich said he is unlikely to take advantage of the exemption because he does not want to damage local roads that are vulnerable to damage caused by heavy-load traffic this time of year.
If he needs to respond to an emergency repair at a home on a load-restricted road, he said he will pump out small loads that can be safely transported without hurting the roads.
“I want to keep the weight off the roads,” he said.
Garberich said the emergency exemption only applies to vehicles responding to true emergencies but does not apply to vehicles conducting regular maintenance on septic systems. He said he hopes companies do not take advantage of the situation.