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NOWRA's Positions

1.

  • The onsite industry generally receives less than one half of one percent of the funding distributed through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. While the ratio of sewered infrastructure to onsite infrastructure is roughly 3:1, the ratio of funding which goes to sewers vs onsite systems is 200:1. This is fundamentally unfair to millions of taxpayers whose tax dollars fund the infrastructure needs of others while their own needs are ignored.
  • The ways in which the problems manifest themselves may be different, but the onsite industry faces the same problems faced by sewer systems yet is expected to ‘go it alone.’ Much onsite infrastructure is aging and in need of replacement. The quality of the wastestream has changed considerably over the years, and substances which were never considered when the infrastructure was built are now viewed as pollutants which need to be controlled. Billions of dollars have gone to subsidize efforts to upgrade sewage treatment plants; virtually no money has gone to subsidize efforts to upgrade aging or out-of-compliance onsite systems.
  • Among the most urgent infrastructure needs are the thousands of citizens across the country who are beyond the reach of sewers and lack even the most basic access to wastewater treatment. Decentralized wastewater treatment would be a viable solution for most of these citizens, but it requires an adequate and dedicated funding source in order to address this dire problem.

2.

  • While the EPA Office of Wastewater employs hundreds of people, almost all of them are focused on municipal wastewater treatment. EPA's Office of Decentralized Wastewater, which is a department under the Office of Wastewater, has only one Full Time Employee. Given the wide range of activities EPA should be doing to improve conditions for those served by decentralized wastewater treatment systems, this staffing level is grossly inadequate.
  • When a homeowner has an onsite system, they are the owner of a wastewater treatment plant which requires regular maintenance and care similar to an HVAC system. However, comparatively little is done to help homeowners understand their obligation to maintain and operate their systems.
  • The EPA’s Septic Smart program is typical of EPA’s approach when it comes to supporting onsite wastewater treatment systems. The Septic Smart program contains a variety of excellent tips and advice for maintaining onsite systems, but the only element of the program which was funded was the development of the message – roughly $75,000. There was no money to get it into the hands of the homeowners with onsite systems. By contract, when EPA’s highly successful WaterSense program was developed, approximately $2 million dollars annually goes to fund that program.

3.

  • Although onsite systems are the original green infrastructure, EPA now defines green infrastructure almost entirely in relation to stormwater management. While that is obviously an important issue that is deserving of attention, it is not the only form of green infrastructure which uses natural processes to manage and treat wastewater. However, by excluding onsite wastewater treatment from any definition of green infrastructure, our industry has no way to access that source of funding.
4.

  • Congress should request that questions be added to the US Census regarding what type of wastewater treatment citizens use. The last national estimate on the size of this highly fragmented industry took place in 1990 – nearly a quarter of a century ago. Without accurate data on industry size, it is impossible to accurately judge the impact of policy decisions on citizens.