Septic System Campaign Safeguards Waterways and Public Health

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

About 60,000 households in Indiana’s coastal counties use home septic systems, but not everyone knows how to maintain them properly. That lack of awareness has led to costly backups and overflows that contaminate waterways with E. coli and endanger public health. The Northwest Indiana Septic System Coordination Work Group, supported by the Indiana Lake Michigan Coastal Program, is successfully educating thousands of homeowners and officials on actions that keep septic systems operating safely and smoothly.

The work group conducted local focus groups and surveys to discover the best-liked outreach messages and media venues. Their year-round education effort reaches its peak during the annual SepticSmart Week, led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Catchy tips, such as, “Don’t Overload the Commode,” “Don’t Strain Your Drain,” and “Protect It and Inspect It,” 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. They want to accomplish even more in the coming years:

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

This project helps fulfill goals of the Indiana Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program. The work group includes Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, the Indiana State Department of Health and Department of Environmental Management, Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ Lake Michigan Coastal Program, and many local organizations and government agencies. (2018)

Partners: Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, Indiana State Department of Health, Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ Lake Michigan Coastal Program, Indiana Regional Planning Committee, Purdue University, Save the Dunes, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency