John Enger: Our Private Sewers Pollute


The water that fills Ken Henrickson’s toilet bowl is pumped directly from the lake he lives on, and when he flushes, it goes back to the lake.

”I’m not sure if it’s a good system or not,” he said last month. Henrickson lives along the rocky shore of Rainy Lake, which forms part of Minnesota’s border with Canada, in the state’s far north.

Henrickson’s is one of the half-million Minnesota homes from which wastewater flows into buried septic tanks — systems that are maintained, and often ignored, by homeowners, not professional engineers. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency estimates one in every five septic systems across the state is failing.

The water off Henrickson’s piece of shoreline is laced with sewage — likely his own, and that of about 200 neighbors. There are at least that many failing septic systems in a 15-mile stretch from Henrickson’s neighborhood east to Voyageurs National Park.

We really need to move to more advanced sewer systems in shorelands.