Organizational Options

What is an Organizational Option/a Community Structure?

Someone should be responsible for the operation, monitoring and maintenance of a community wastewater treatment system as well as individual systems within an identified area. This may be the homeowner for an individual system. For a multi-home system, this could be a responsible management entity with the legal authority and administrative capabilities to provide the services needed, and be accountable. These legal entities form the "community structure" for a system.

The selected entity needs to be able to: acquire property or easements, budget and levy to manage, repair, and replace the system, obtain financing, negotiate contracts, develop and enforce policies or ordinances, provide recovery of costs from damages to the system, provide long-term sustainability and accountability.

Organizational Structures Matrix (.pdf)
This 6 page chart outlines the major organizational structures available to communities. It highlights the functions, advantages, limitations, who to contact for more information and who has jurisdiction over each format. This matrix is not comprehensive, but a starting point for communities to compare each of the available options.

Forming a District 
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has a manual, Wastewater Options for Small Communities in Kansas. Several chapters are applicable for Minnesota small communities, particularly:
Chapter 10 - The Formation of a Sewer District 

Why Do We Need a Community Structure?

We all utilize organization in our daily lives—routines, structure in our family, work and community lives. As more complex septic systems are developed and installed, management becomes more complex as well. Today there is an emphasis on managed systems with accountability to protect the health of people and of the environment.

Types of Legal Entities for Communities

Subordinate Service District

  • Sponsored by local government such as township, city or county
  • Relatively easy, inexpensive, quick to form
  • Created by a vote of at least 50% plus one of the property owners in the designated area
  • Have levy authority, so can handle billing and collections of funds, acquire property and easements, obtain financing, develop and enforce rules and structure.
  • Managed by a sponsoring organization such as a Township Board or the County Board of Commissioners

For more information, contact the attorneys at the:
Minnesota Association of Townships
Edgewood Professional Bldg, 
P.O. Box 267, 
St. Michael, MN 55376
Phone: (763) 497-2330 or (800) 228-0296


Sanitary District

  • Provides effective management for large and small areas, can be established along existing lines such as a watershed, township or county.
  • These districts are created by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), with legislative action. They take a fairly long time to establish. They are very effective in managing areas that include a variety of systems.
  • Have levy authority, so can handle billing and collections of funds, acquire property and easements, obtain financing, develop and enforce rules and structures.
  • Managed by a Board of Managers

Otter Tail 20 Year Review (.pdf) 
Review of the Otter Tail, MN Sanitary Sewer District after 20 years of operation.

See the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for information including a checklist, FAQ's, legal requirements and other information.

Watershed Districts

  • Have levy authority as a local unit of government
  • Managed by an elected Board of Managers
  • What is a Watershed District? >>
  • Administered via the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) >>
  • Lengthy process involving public hearings
  • Focus is usually on broader or multiple issues—not usually just for septic system problems.

Incorporation or Annexation

A viable choice for many communities is to annex to an existing city, or to incorporate. Advantages include increased local services including wastewater treatment. If planned carefully, communities can retain their "rural flavor" or community characteristics. One disadvantage is that fees for services increase.

Go to the State of Minnesota Dept. of Administration web page on boundary adjustments for information.

The following options are possible, but do not have the legal authority to generate and guarantee revenue:

Lake Improvement Districts

  • Focus on improving water quality
  • Only a small portion of county usually involved, but entire county is responsible financially

For more information contact:
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 

Minnesota Waters
720 West St. Germain, Suite 143
St. Cloud, MN 56301
P: 800-515-5253 or 320-257-6630

Joint Exercise of Powers Agreements

  • Allows issues that cross political boundaries to be addressed with laid out responsibilities and powers
  • Time consuming, with board meetings and detailed agreements
  • One partner can leave at any time

For more information contact:
Association of Minnesota Counties
125 Charles Avenue, 
St. Paul MN 55103-2108
Phone: (651) 224-3344

Lake or Homeowner Associations

  • Good starting point—a group is usually already organized, with communications in place such as a newsletter.
  • Easier to move into a Subordinate Sewer District or Sanitary Sewer District when a group is already organized

For more information contact:
Minnesota Waters
720 West St. Germain, Suite 143
St. Cloud, MN 56301
P: 800-515-5253 or 320-257-6630

Watershed Management Organizations

  • Main function is planning in urban areas; limited to the Twin City metro area

For more information contact:
The Metropolitan Council