It’s hard to control this kind of pollution, and it’s a major reason why IDEM has deemed three out of four streams it monitors as impaired, or not fit for full-body contact recreational use, according to IDEM’s 2012 water quality report.
Bruno Pigott, assistant commissioner of IDEM’s office of water quality, said the state acknowledges there are multiple sources of pollution that taint Indiana’s waterways, and failing septic systems releasing untreated sewage is just one of them.
But just because it’s one contributing factor to the overall pollution problem doesn’t mean nothing should be done, he said.
“We need to work on all sources of pollution, and we do work on them,” Pigott said. “We have to use all our tools to solve the problem. Slowly, working with all our partners, we’ll get there.”
For farmers and businesses that may generate contaminated runoff that seeps into streams, he said the state offers incentive programs to encourage them to take steps to minimize that runoff.
But incentives are different than mandates, said Richard Denney, a certified wastewater treatment operator for the Lake Bruce conservancy district west of Rochester — especially when those mandates cost rural communities and taxpayers millions of dollars.
Denney said he agrees with the state that residential sewage shouldn’t be polluting waterways. But he said engineering firms often over-design rural sewer projects to meet excessive regulations from the state, driving up construction costs that in turn make monthly sewer bills higher for residents.
For example, when Bruce Lake constructed its wastewater treatment plant, he said, federal and state regulations required the plant to have the capacity to treat 300 gallons of water per household per day.
How much water were residents actually using? Denney said around 70 gallons per day.
“We’re talking requiring our plant to treat over four times what we’re actually using,” he said. “Someone in the ivory tower down in Indianapolis says these are the figures you have to abide by. They don’t look at the actual demographics.”