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Program aims to limit septic pollution in Lake, Flathead counties

by CHAD SOKOL
Daily Inter Lake | May 17, 2021 7:25 PM

Property owners who live near bodies of water in Lake and Flathead counties can get reimbursed up to $200 to help cover the cost of maintaining their septic systems under a new conservation program.

The Montana Association of Conservation Districts said Friday it has received a grant that will help landowners pay for septic system pumping and inspections, mitigating the risk of "nonpoint source pollution" reaching the area's rivers, lakes and streams.

"As the population of the area grows, so does the number of septic systems. Pollution from septic systems is becoming more of a threat to clean water in the Flathead Basin," said Jillian Henrichon, a member of the Big Sky Watershed Corps who is managing the program.

"This program was developed with the goal of reducing nonpoint source pollution to our waters coming from potentially malfunctioning septic systems," she said. "Reducing the risk of septic-associated pollution is especially important in certain areas in and around Kalispell, since both Ashley Creek and Spring Creek are deemed impaired due to excess nutrients."

In an email, Henrichon said Montana conservation districts received $70,000 in grant funding from the state Department of Environmental Quality, made possible by a federal program established under the Clean Water Act. Of that, $30,000 is available for septic-system maintenance, and $40,000 is for "program development and general education and outreach on septic issues," she said.

The program will cover 50% of the cost of pumping and inspecting each septic system, up to $200. A system is eligible if it hasn't been pumped in three years or more and is located within 500 feet of a lake, river or stream.

Property owners can select a pumping company, get a quote and submit an application to the Flathead Conservation District at flatheadcd.org. Once approved, they can schedule a pumping and inspection, have the pumper fill out a reporting form and return it to the conservation district for reimbursement.

Priority will be given to those in the Lake Mary Ronan, Ashley Creek and Spring Creek watersheds. A map showing the boundaries of the watersheds can be found on the district's website.