Good Neighbor Septic System Campaign Safeguards Waterways and Public Health

The Takeaway: Thousands of Indiana’s coastal residents now know simple steps to keep systems operating smoothly.

About 40,000 households in Indiana’s coastal counties use home septic systems, but not everyone knows how to maintain them properly. That lack of awareness can lead to costly backups and overflows that contaminate waterways with E. coli and endanger public health. A successful initiative is educating thousands of homeowners and officials on actions that keep septic systems operating safely and smoothly. Joining forces on that effort are the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Lake Michigan Coastal Program, Northwest Indiana Septic System Coordination Work Group, and multiple partners.

Successes include the Good Neighbor Program, which helps Northwest Indiana homeowners reduce septic system failures and negative water quality impacts in the Lake Michigan watershed. Clean water ambassadors are selected from 20 coastal-county neighborhoods. Once trained by the coastal program, they communicate with neighbors and local decision-makers on proper septic system maintenance and related water quality issues. They also attend local events, organize educational meetings, and help manage SepticSmart Week in their communities.

The coastal program helps organize Northwest Indiana’s annual SepticSmart Week, which is led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Catchy tips, such as, “Don’t Overload the Commode,” “Don’t Strain Your Drain,” “Protect It and Inspect It,” and “Be A Good Neighbor: Septic System Care Depends on You!” reach multiple audiences:

  • Thousands of residents receive brochures on septic system best practices
  • “Safe transport” tips reach area wastewater haulers
  • Messages appear on outdoor banners and TV and in newspapers and social media
  • Local officials’ resolutions and proclamations highlight safe-system importance

The work group partners have been invited to speak about their campaign success at state floodplain, stormwater, and environmental health conferences. Other important actions are taking place through the efforts of the Good Neighbor Program, coastal program, and work group partners:

  • A septic system inventory and map for the Lake Michigan Watershed Boundary
  • Online outreach tools for septic system maintenance
  • Efforts to build local momentum for septic system inspection ordinances
  • Peer-to-peer education efforts near Lake Michigan tributaries
  • Enhanced participation in SepticSmart Week

The Good Neighbor Program was created by the Septic System Coordination Work Group under the guidance of the Indiana Lake Michigan Coastal Program. This project helps fulfill goals of the state’s Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program. The work group, led by the coastal program, includes the Indiana Department of Health and Department of Environmental Management as well as local organizations and government agencies. (Original story 2018/Updated 2019)

Partners: Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ Lake Michigan Coastal Program, Indiana State Department of Health, Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, Indiana University Northwest, Save the Dunes, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency