The next time someone around Lake Herman suggests we build a central sewer system around the lake, I'm going to remind them of the grief Sioux Falls residents are having with their sewer system this week. One pipe fails, and a million gallons of sewage backs up. Mayor Mike Huether orders thousands of homes and businesses not to use their toilets, laundry, or showers (just what you want to hear after a hard day of working on the road crew or getting back from a five-mile run in the summer heat). The city has to discharge sewage into Covell Lake and the Big Sioux River at a rate of 900 to 1200 gallons per minute.
If the Lake Herman Sanitary District were to replace private septic tanks with a shared public sewer, we wouldn't include a storm sewer that would amplify water flow and increase the risk of overloading the system. But consider that one plugged or broken pipe in a central system puts an entire quadrant of Sioux Falls at risk of basements full of sewage. One pump station malfunction threatens everyone's property and health. And whatever the problem—too much volume, one defective pipe, one human error—everyone one the system pays for it via taxes.
With our septic tanks on Lake Herman, there can still be problems. An old tank can crumble and leak. Drainfields can get saturated, plugged with roots, or packed by driving trucks or heavy equipment over the yard. Homeowners can flush grease and oil and objects down the drain that plug the system and cause a backup.
But when something goes wrong with a septic system, the damage is usually limited to one house and yard, the property of the person who more than likely neglected or misused his system in the first place. The costs of onsite septic system failure—wrecked carpet and drywall, stress from cleaning up, four or five thousand dollars to replace a tank—never impact an entire neighborhood at once. If I fail to take care of my septic tank, my stupidity doesn't cause my neighbors grief.
Living in the city has much to recommend it. But the joys of central sewer are not an element of city living that I envy or that I wish on my neighbors here on Lake Herman.
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