Educational Programs

Ever notice how you can be waiting on line for your burger and fries, walking through the mall, at a dinner party, or even during halftime at the game and the subject always turns to sewage treatment;    "So Bob, how do you treat your sewage?" 

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Oh you haven't noticed that?  Maybe you should.  Why...because although most Americans don't realize it, we are facing a sewage treatment crisis and sooner or later we will all have to start dealing with it.  However sewage is not a sexy environmental subject so you seldom hear about it on the evening news...but just because you don't hear about it doesn't mean it isn't happening. 

The status of septic systems in America The status of treatment facilities in America

Relatively speaking, it has only been recently that states have begun addressing septic systems (many still aren't).

Although record keeping is spotty at best, approximately 28% of the homes in this country use some type of on-site system and the number is going up by 500,000+ every year.  Unfortunately a large portion of them (even new ones) are not up to code and a potential source of pollution.    

Up until the 1970’s the common method of installing a system was to dig them deep to avoid direct contact with humans.  What no one realized at the time was many of these systems were so deep that they were often discharging untreated waste directly into the underground water tables and these water tables are what supply the lakes, rivers and oceans.     

As the state water agencies realized this engineering error they began outlawing the use of these deep systems in favor of shallow systems (which they found actually treated wastewater better than a multimillion dollar treatment facility).  But there were a few problems with how this problem was dealt with:

  • Not all states considered this an important issue and put it on the back burner.  In fact many states are still treating this as a low-level problem which further confuses the situation.  For example; if you are going to sell your home in a few states/counties you must bring the septic system up to current code before you can transfer the property.  Yet move across the state/county line there may be no such requirement and you could find out shortly after moving in that the septic system is failing and does not meet today’s codes, and as the new owner you will be responsible to pay for that new system. 

  • Something very few bothered to address was when the codes changed it technically made those deep systems illegal.  However many (including health depts.) have operated under the assumption that these older systems were grandfathered in and they would never need to be upgraded.  In fact most of these officials are shocked to learn that other states and counties are now mandating up-grades. 

  • Research has brought septic systems to a new level of sophistication, yet many states are not aware of these design and material improvements and are still using outdated methods.

  • Conversely some states have now put so many restrictions on septic systems that they have driven up the costs to $20,000, $30,000 even $40,000.  Being a cost effective ($5,000 to $15,000) solution is one of the benefits of using a septic system, however at these costs it is on par with a centralized treatment facility. 

What makes this even more difficult is the fact that the septic industry is the most fragmented of all the building trades.  Electricians, plumbers, carpenters and masons have national codes and standards they must follow, but when it comes to septic systems it is up to each state, even county to decide what the requirements will be and how they will be enacted.  And because of this lack of consistency fixing the problem is going to be a major nightmare.  

Existing treatment plants are not without their share of problems either.  Most people (and community leaders) are under the impression that sewage treatment facilities are these high-tech modern marvels that will take in highly contaminated wastewater in one end and 10 minutes later spit out crystal clear drinking water.  This is wrong. 

Treatment facilities reduce the contaminates in wastewater, not eliminate it.  The truth is cities all across the country are fined millions of dollars every year because they have exceeded the limits determined safe and discharged millions of gallons of contaminated water into the waterways.  This contamination has lead to thousands of beach closings every year and is contributing to Red Tide outbreaks (among other environmental/health concerns) in coastal areas.

From 1995 to 2005 the health and environmental damage to our coastal areas, waterways and lakes went up almost 600%!!!  That should tell you something about the effectiveness of these treatment plants.    

By the way, guess who pays these fines…you do with your tax and treatment fee dollars.     

This doesn’t happen because the operators of these plants aren’t doing their job; it happens because most of these facilities are now hopelessly overloaded and in need of major updating.  But this process takes millions of dollars, again paid for by your tax and treatment fee dollars. 

Everyone wants clean water...but no one wants to pay for it.  At the same time people are too busy to pay attention to what solutions are available.   

The bottom line is, as cities continue to grow sooner or later almost every community in the country will be facing these questions: 

  • Expand the current sewage treatment facility to accommodate the outlying homes.

  • Build a new sewage treatment facility to accommodate those outlying homes. 

  • Let these homes stay on septic systems (but upgrade them).     

The direction you take will depend on how knowledgeable you are...if you ignore the issue you may not like the choices others make for you. 

Take my word for it, over the next few years millions of Americans are going to be saying, "I voted for you to look out for me.  Just who in the hell are you working for?" 

You don't want to be in that group and the key is to learn!


These classes are performed for homeowners and are usually sponsored by the local Health Depts. Zoning Offices, Lake Associations, Homeowner Associations and/or local governments.  In most cases it is the homeowners that get these classes started because they are the ones that will benefit from them...or lose without them. 

In 1995, Ken Olson of the University of Minnesota Extension Service started a community education program for homeowners in the Twin Cities metro area.  Follow-up studies have shown virtually 100% of the people that attend these classes make changes in their life-styles to protect their systems and a large percentage voluntarily replace/repair their failing systems.  Requests from small communities outside the metro area and in other states proved the nation-wide need for this educational process. 

Having worked with the Extension Service on various educational programs, Jim vonMeier volunteered to take this a step further by working with Health Depts. and communities performing these classes in other parts of the country.  These agencies/groups welcome the help and have said this [educational process] is long over-due.  Many have also stated homeowners seem to listen to an outside source more readily than a local source.          

These 2-hour classes teach homeowners the health, environmental and financial damages failing septic systems have caused, what a proper system is, and how to use and maintain those systems.  Because of the number of questions from the audience these classes run 2½-3 hours.

The need and support for this education is obvious.  Many have stated waiting [years] for individual states and communities to organize and implement these programs would be counterproductive, financially devastating, and an un-necessary source of environmental damage.  A common statement homeowners make is, “This is so simple.  Why didn’t someone tell me this before my system failed?”  A common statement from the health and zoning officials is, "Even we were not aware of many of the things you talked about."    

Another issue (when applicable) in these seminars is whether to run the city sewer lines out to neighborhoods.  Unfortunately many communities have made this choice and soon come to regret the decision.  The costs always seem to go higher than projected and the environmental problems increase. 

Jim addresses this problem without taking either side, rather he outlines the steps the community should follow to determine what the best solution would be.    

Program Objective: To show homeowners that properly designed, installed and maintained septic systems are better for the environment and less expensive than sewage treatment facilities, but they must be properly used and maintained. Course Outline:

  • Explain the difference between disposal of waste water and treatment.

  • Explain how soils naturally perform the treatment process.

  • The history and evolution of septic systems.

  • How a septic system functions.

  • What causes them to fail.

  • What steps can be taken to prevent a failure.

  • Environmentally safe methods that may rejuvenate a failed system.

  • When applicable, focus on how small communities can map out a plan of action to deal with sewage treatment and show them how not to get taken to the cleaners...a very common occurrence with smaller communities.  

  •  Questions/Answers/Discussion.

These classes are scheduled for 2 hours. Many will run 2½ to 3 hours depending on the number of questions.

"Due to the demonstrated interest and the needed component of ongoing education, we would like to have you back in the summer as a follow-up to your earlier presentation."

Click here to download community education brief (pdf) 

Click here to e-mail Jim vonMeier for more information 
or call 1-763-856-3800 
"I want to thank you for an invaluable contribution to the health and welfare of our citizens through the recent seminar you conducted here on septic system care." "Thanks to you, I believe we have a new perspective on the importance of proper design, use and maintenance of our systems."
"You certainly have an art in making a rather unmentionable subject extremely interesting, informative, and even humorous." "Your educational class is a great tool for bringing an "out-of-sight, out-of-mind" subject to the forefront in a simple, understandable format."
"Thank you again for your time and effort in coming to our rural region. It was greatly appreciated by all." "We have had many requests for information about your educational programs, which we continue to distribute."
"It was very rewarding to see more than 250 people turn out to be educated on what they could do to improve their lake." "The program you presented was outstanding. It contained so much new information, and it was amazing how much the audience just wanted to hear more and more."

More educational materials
You have an Owners Manual for your car, now you can have one for your septic system. 

One of the best educational publications available to homeowners is the SEPTIC SYSTEM OWNER’S GUIDE by the University of Minnesota Extension Service. This owner’s manual shows you how your system operates, how to properly use it and what you should know about maintenance.

You can order the OWNER’S GUIDE ($4 + $2 shipping) directly from the University by calling 1-800-876-8636 and asking for order #PC-6583-OF2.  Or you can order it from us by calling 1-888-873-6505.


Homeowners Guide

If you want a more in-depth book (160 pages) that covers designs as well as history, you may want to get the Septic System Owner's Manual.  This book is well written and humorous.  At $14.95 + $3.95 for shipping it could be well worth it.  Call 1-800-307-0131 or visit   
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Septic Protector, Zimmerman, MN 55398 

Email Contact

1-763-856-3800 or 1-888-873-6505



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