February 25, 2009 By Andy Opsahl
Officials in Topeka, Kan. want septic tanks gone, so they use GIS maps to locate households capable of switching to the municipal sewer system. The project has been ongoing since the city passed an ordinance in 1997 mandating that homes close to the sewer system remove their septic tanks, said Kyle Tjelmeland, GIS system analyst for Topeka.
"It becomes a revenue stream for the city," said Tjelmeland. Citizens pay the city more than $1,000 to hook up to the municipal sewer system.
To locate prospects for conversion to the sewer, Topeka's GIS staff crafted a map with layers showing houses near the sewer system that receive water service but no sewer service.
"If they're paying a water bill, but they're not paying a sewer bill, there's a good chance they're using a septic system. Either that, or they're connected to the sewer system illegally," said Tjelmeland.
Septic Tanks Can Pollute
A septic tank receives all of a building's sewage, dissolves the solids, cleans the water and releases it into the ground. Built up solids are pumped out of a tank roughly every five years. One benefit of a septic tank is that it spares from the cost of paying for sewer service. The process is harmless to the environment until the tank starts malfunctioning -- sometimes when the tank has been in the ground 60 years or more, explained Tjelmeland.
"The bacteria and chemicals in wastewater can leach into the ground water. More often that water comes to the surface, getting you a bad smell and standing water, which can breed mosquitoes," Tjelmeland said.
The Environmental Protection Agency gave Topeka a grant years ago to pay for residential hookups, and many residents utilized it. That grant is done. Homeowners now must fund new sewer hookups themselves.
All over the country, community leaders are looking to boost economic development through various initiatives. One key element in many of those initiatives is the use of information technology. When local governments build IT infrastructure, create e-government applications, assist high-tech startups or otherwise focus on technology, they create conditions that draw businesses to their communities and help retain skilled workers. This paper discusses and provides examples of these various ways local government can use technology to ultimately make a community more attractive to businesses, visitors and residents.