Community-Managed Septic Systems:

A Viable Alternative to Sewage Treatment Plants

CED-78-168: Published: Nov 3, 1978. Publicly Released: Nov 3, 1978.

Additional Materials:


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

Wastewater generated by homes and businesses is either transported by sewers to central facilities for treatment and disposal or treated and disposed of onsite by some type of septic system. Because septic systems have performed ineffectively, they have come to be regarded as temporary methods of wastewater treatment. Septic systems generally fail, however, as a result of human error or neglect.

Septic systems are environmentally and technologically sound. Properly designed, constructed, operated, and maintained septic systems should not fail and can be as permanent as central treatment systems. Alternative septic system technologies are available to overcome soil, geological, and hydrological conditions which may limit the use of conventional sewage systems. These alternative systems can provide as good or better treatment than central systems, use less energy, and provide an additional benefit by replenishing groundwater. Federal agencies do not encourage the building of septic systems to permanently solve wastewater treatment problems, and various state regulations and local enforcement have not provided effective controls to assure good septic system performance. Good management could reduce septic systems' failure and make them part of a community-wide strategy to reduce, prevent, and eliminate water pollution.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency, should: (1) revise regulations to require that facility plans consider water pollution problems in all community areas; (2) encourage states and communities to obtain the necessary authority to establish effective public management programs for septic systems; (3) establish minimum standards for public management of septic systems; and (4) emphasize to public entities that grant assistance is available for major rehabilitation and upgrading of septic systems.

    Agency Affected:


Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Aug 15, 2016

Jul 26, 2016

Jul 21, 2016

Jul 14, 2016

Jul 7, 2016

Jun 14, 2016

Jun 13, 2016

Looking for more? Browse all our products here