Kelle's Creek Septic System Inspection Program

The Valley Branch Watershed District (VBWD) obtained a State of Minnesota Clean Water Fund (CWF) grant (C15-2471) to develop a voluntary septic system inspection pilot program for all properties located within the Kelle’s Creek watershed in Afton, Minnesota. Kelle’s Creek does not meet Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) water quality standards. It is classified by the MPCA as impaired, due to high levels of E. coli bacteria—typically associated with human and animal waste. According to a water quality study of Kelle’s Creek, one of the primary sources of the E. coli bacteria is noncompliant (failing) septic systems.

With the CWF grant funds, from 2016 through the end of 2018, the VBWD was able to offer FREE septic system inspections (normally $400–500) to all property owners within the Kelle’s Creek watershed to help identify systems that may be polluting Kelle’s Creek and shallow groundwater in the area.

Proactive inspection and subsequent improvements to noncompliant systems will have a direct positive effect on the water quality of Kelle’s Creek and reduce threats to public health. Based on the TMDL study completed for the Kelle’s Creek watershed, there are approximately 160 septic systems within the watershed and based on inspection information from Washington County, as many as 50-60 of these systems could be noncompliant and not adequately treating wastewater. Some of the septic systems (approximately 12 current systems) in the lower portion of the Kelle’s watershed (within Afton village) have been connected to the Afton community septic system. However, there are still many septic systems in the upper portion of the Kelle’s Creek watershed that should be inspected.

A complete summary of the program can be found here: Program Summary

As part of the Kelle's Creek septic system inspection program, 23 septic system inspections were completed.  Additionally, approximately 16 inspections completed within the watershed as part of recent home sales were also reviewed.  Based on this data, 56% of the septic system inspected within the watershed were non-compliant.

The VBWD established a septic system replacement cost-share program to help offset the potential costs to residents of having to replace or upgrade their systems and incentivize participation in the voluntary inspection program.  Ten residents applied to participate in the cost-share program, with nine of the 10 systems being replaced as of the end of the program.  The VBWD provided $36,096 in cost-share funds to Kelle’s Creek watershed residents that had noncompliant septic systems.

In addition to reducing bacterial pollutant loading to Kelle’s Creek, replacing noncompliant septic systems can reduce nutrient loading to downstream resources. According to the University of Minnesota Extension Onsite Sewage Treatment Program Septic System Improvement Estimator, the replaced SSTS will prevent 3.17 x 1014 CFU of bacteria per year from reaching the groundwater in the Kelle’s Creek watershed (Heger 2013). Nutrient loading will also be reduced to Kelle’s Creek and Lake St. Croix, which is located immediately downstream from Kelle’s Creek and is impaired for excess nutrients. Replacement of the noncompliant septic systems is estimated to have resulted in the removal of approximately 46 pounds of total phosphorus and 80 pounds of nitrogen per year from groundwater that is potentially discharging to the creek.


Grant Budget Summary (through end of grant 12/28/2018)

Funding Source

Budget Amount

Amount Spent through 12/28/2018

CWF Grant Funds



VBWD Match Funds 



Total Project 



VBWD Septic System Replacement Cost-Share Funds




For more information related to septic system ordinances and inspections, see the following:

Washington County Septic System Program:

Washington County Development Code for Subsurface Sewage Treatment System Regulations:

University of Minnesota Onsite Sewage Treatment Program: