By Pat Jenkins

The Dispatch

More than $1 million has been loaned to Pierce County homeowners to help fix septic systems through a government and private partnership that still has money available.

Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department is part of the regional loan program that offers homeowners affordable loans for septic system repairs and replacements. Since July 2016, more than $4 million has been loaned throughout western Washington. Included on the receiving end were 34 Pierce County families.

That's money well-spent, considering that a failing septic system can be costly for homeowners and the environment, officials noted.

“The Clean Water Loan program helps homeowners and the environment,” said Gary Porter, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department on-site sewage and well permitting program manager.

“Healthy septic systems help protect our lakes, streams and beaches from untreated wastewater,” said Gary Porter, the Health Department's on-site sewage and well permits manager.

The loan program got its start in 2014 when the Health Department partnered with Craft3, a non-profit community lender. Replacement of a septic system could cost $15,000 or more. Loans went to people who might not otherwise get help, Porter said.

The same year, the Health Department was the lead applicant for a state Department of Ecology (DOE) grant to form the regional loan program. At that time, other counties had their own loan programs that dated back to the early 2000s. Those programs had different lenders and requirements. When the regional program started in 2016, it standardized the loan process with Craft 3 for Pierce and 11 other counties – Thurston, King, Clallam, Grays Harbor, Island, Jefferson, Kitsap, Mason, Pacific, Snohomish and Whatcom.

To date, 71 families have received Clean Water Loans for septic system repairs or replacement totaling more than $1.7 million.

Loans for homeowners and small businesses can cover all upfront and construction costs, including septic system design, permits and installation. The funding can also include a reserve of up to $1,750 to help property owners pay for ongoing inspections and repairs.

Homes eligible for loan assistance can be owner-occupied or rented. Their septic systems must be at least 25 years old, failing and/or under a local government agency's order to be reparired or replaced.

According to DOE officials, there are more than 1 million privately owned and operated septic systems in the Washington, and many homeowners may not know their system needs to be replaced until an overflow of sewage is discovered.

More information, including loan criteria and applications, is available at 888-231-2170, cleanwater@craft3.org, www.craft3.org/cleanwater, and www.tpchd.org/cleanwater.

Craft3, founded in 1994 and baserd in Seattle, has loan programs for businesses, non-profits and individuals. It reports making investments of more than $423 million in Oregon and Washington.