Septic Systems

Programs Related to Septic Systems

Many programs, both at the EPA and elsewhere, relate to EPA's decentralized wastewater program and provide information about how decentralized wastewater is integrated in environmental quality, planning, protection, and conservation.

EPA Programs

Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF)
Clean Water State Revolving Fund programs in each state and Puerto Rico are funded by EPA and operate like banks. Assets are used to make low- or no-interest loans to install new systems; replace, upgrade, or modify inadequate or failing systems; and establish decentralized wastewater management programs.

Biosolids Program
During the treatment of domestic sewage in a treatment facility, solid, semisolid or liquid untreated residue, called sewage sludge, is generated. When sewage sludge is treated and processed, it becomes biosolids. Biosolids can be safely recycled and applied as fertilizer to improve and maintain productive soils and stimulate plant growth.

Coastal Waters
Coastal Zone Management programs must satisfy specific conditions, including the adoption of onsite wastewater treatment systems management measures that protect nitrogen-limited waters.

Drinking Water Source Water Assessment and Protection
A significant number of community water systems list onsite systems as a potential contributor to pollution of underground and surface drinking water sources. 

National Estuary Program
A number of National Estuary Program Comprehensive Conservation Management Plans list the reduction of nutrient and bacteria loadings from onsite systems among their key objectives.

National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Wastewater Permits
Onsite wastewater treatment systems that discharge can be covered under general permit programs.

Nonpoint Source and the Section 319 Grant Program
Under section 319 of the Clean Water Act, EPA annually provides grants to states for controlling nonpoint sources of pollution, such as agricultural runoff, mining activities and malfunctioning onsite septic systems. In states where onsite systems have been identified as a significant source of such pollution, these funds may be used to construct, upgrade, or repair onsite systems.

Office of Wetlands
Onsite systems can be a significant source of nutrient inputs to valued wetlands, limiting the wetlands' ability to process nitrogen and phosphorus loads from other sources.

Source Water Protection
View the Citizen's Guide to Ground-Water Protection, and find information on state and tribal initiatives, various EPA programs, and grants that support source water protection.

Stormwater Phase II of the NPDES Program (PDF) (4 pp, 297 K, About PDF)
Phase II requires each municipal separate storm sewer system to address six minimum control measures. One measure is to detect and eliminate illicit discharges, including flows of partially treated sewage from septic systems that reach storm sewers.

Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs)
Nutrient and bacteria TMDLs often include septic systems as a key contributor to violations to water quality criteria and impairment to beneficial uses.

Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program
Large-capacity septic systems are subject to regulation under the UIC program. The disposal of industrial or commercial waste into an onsite system can inhibit wastewater treatment and cause the system to fail. Chemicals can also pass through the system, enter the ground water and pose a serious contamination threat.

Water Quality Standards
Water Quality Standards define the goals for a waterbody by designating its uses, setting criteria to protect those uses, and establishing provisions to protect water quality from pollutants. Many states have found failing septic systems have caused waterbodies to exceed acceptable water quality standards.

Other Programs

Rural Community Assistance Program (RCAP) Help for Small Community Wastewater ProjectsExit
RCAP provides training and technical assistance to address wastewater treatment and disposal issues in small, rural, and tribal communities.