Tollver’s situation isn’t unique. Over the last 30 years, thousands of Indiana residents in hundreds of rural communities across the state have faced the same conundrum: Build a new wastewater system to replace failing septics, or face the consequences from the state.
Those consequences could include fines or the possibility of health departments condemning homes as unlivable.
In Miami, Howard and Tipton counties alone, at least 12 rural sewer projects are either complete or in the works. Just this year, 10 communities in Indiana building or upgrading small-scale wastewater projects like the one in Mexico took out a total of $32.1 million in low-interest loans from the state to pay for their projects.
It’s a big expense for small, rural areas to build new sewer systems, and those expenses translate into monthly bills that are rarely less than $50 and sometimes more than $80 for communities that are often low income.
Those expenses have a lot of residents asking the question: Are these projects worth the money?
“I think every little town in Indiana is going to have something like this eventually,” said Reggie Wolf, a Jefferson Township Trustee and local business owner who was involved in the Mexico sewer project. “But I just wonder how much impact our system is going to have on cutting pollution down in that river. How much impact is our expense really going to have?”
It’s a fair question. Despite the millions of dollars spent annually on rural sewer projects, many state waterways still remain dirty and polluted due to things like farm pesticides sprayed on fields and chemical runoff from roads.
“One of the biggest challenges Indiana’s rivers, streams, lakes, and wetlands face does not come from the end of pipe,” reads an IDEM statement on what it calls nonpoint source pollution. “It’s pollution that can come from our construction sites, our parking lots, our farms, our roads, and even our own backyards.”