‘It’s not an inexpensive replacement’: City explores incentives for switch from septic tanks to sewer

About 400 relics are beneath Spokane’s surface. But don’t go dig for them.

Though long discouraged, hundreds of septic tanks still operate across the city of Spokane, where officials fear they pose a risk of polluting the source of drinking water for the city and its neighbors.

With this in mind, city officials are developing a program that could provide financial incentives to property owners making the transition from septic tanks to sewers.

The city is considering offering low-interest loans and other forms of assistance to homeowners connected to the sewer system.

The city owns the main sewer, but it is up to individual companies and owners to join in – a project that can cost thousands of dollars.

As part of the program that city officials are considering, a loan would be repaid through the owner’s existing utility bills and a lien on the property, according to Scott Simmons, the city’s public works director.

The program could also help residents whose sewer connections exist but fail and who are often devastated by the root systems of nearby trees.

“It’s not a cheap replacement,” said Simmons.

Although the vast majority of the city’s population was long ago connected to the sewer system, around 400 active septic tanks and cesspools still rest over the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer.

The city has worked in the past to encourage its residents and businesses to join the sewer system. According to Marlene Feist, a city spokeswoman, the disconnected holdouts often face challenges when it comes to hooking up the city’s sewer system.

Although relatively rare in Spokane, septic tanks are common across the country. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than one in five households in the United States depend on one.

While septic tanks pose little of a risk to drinking water in rural, sparsely populated areas, the EPA says they are not suitable for urban areas where there isn’t enough soil to filter harmful pathogens that can get into drinking water.

There are even a handful of cesspools in town.

The city hopes to iron out the details of the program so it can start in 2021.

Spokane County has a sewer expansion program dating back to 1980. The county needs land to be connected to a nearby sewer within one year of installation.

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