Find a Septic System Professional
In Your Area

Home > About > Overview



The National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association (NOWRA) is the largest organization within the U.S. dedicated to educating and representing members within the onsite and decentralized industry.  Our members include educators, regulators, engineers, contractors, manufacturers, suppliers, service providers, and other parties in the protection of North America’s water resources and environment.  All segments of the industry are represented on NOWRA’s Board of Directors that provide broad perspectives to promote and sustain our industry and service to the public.  NOWRA headquarters is located in Arlington, Virginia, with local constituent groups throughout the U.S. and Canada.

NOWRA was founded in 1992 to educate and serve its members and the public by promoting sound federal, state, and local policies, to improve standards of practice, and increase public recognition of the need for and benefits of onsite and decentralized wastewater infrastructure.  Decentralized systems provide effective and more affordable wastewater treatment solutions where traditional central sewerage systems might be impractical or unsuitable.  These systems can sustainably serve a single home, a neighborhood, or an entire community including commercial and industrial facilities. 

“Decentralized system” has become a commonly-used term to describe a wastewater treatment system that treats and disperses wastewater from individual homes or a cluster of homes at or near the source of the wastewater discharge.  Decentralized systems include onsite and cluster treatment systems.  Systems may serve a cluster of homes, a subdivision or small community as well as commercial and industrial complexes.  If multiple sources are served by a cluster system, a collection system may be included to receive and convey the wastewater to a combined treatment and dispersal component.  These systems take advantage of the vast capacity of soil to remove or transform pollutants that are in the effluent as it percolates through the soil thereby avoiding point discharges to surface waters and maintaining the quality and quantity of our groundwater.

By definition, onsite wastewater management systems are a ‘green technology’ because treated effluent recharges local aquifers.  A new innovation in decentralized wastewater management is the reuse or recycling of treated effluent.  With appropriate safeguards, local regulations or bylaws may allow the treated water to be used for irrigation, toilet and urinal flushing or make-up water for commercial boilers.  These applications reduce the demand for potable water and aid in the protection and preservation of the available water sources.

As society demands more efficient use of financial resources and sustainable environmental wastewater management, the use of managed decentralized wastewater treatment systems is a key support structure for wastewater reuse.  This requires a distributed management system supported by trained professional service and maintenance providers.

NOWRA provides a national forum to address the challenges facing our industry.  We provide education and training programs for professionals and bring uniformity to the industry.  As the national educational resource and clearinghouse for onsite and decentralized systems and promoter of best management practices, NOWRA plays a lead role in state and federal legislative initiatives to protect water sources, human health, and the environment.  NOWRA works to educate the public and policy makers about the advantages and benefits of onsite and decentralized wastewater management and serves as an advocate at the federal, state and local levels to encourage legislative and regulatory changes that facilitate expanded use of these systems (See NOWRA’s Model Code Framework.)  Additionally, NOWRA creates new market and business opportunities for its members through conferences and networking events, while increasing the awareness about how onsite systems protect public health and the environment.

Decentralized wastewater treatment systems are an effective solution to protecting water quality.  They are a valuable component of watershed management plans and sustainable development programs.  Onsite and decentralized wastewater treatment systems can benefit both urban and rural areas by providing affordable solutions and reducing risk to the environment in unusual situations and difficult locations.  These systems can provide optimal water management to homes, businesses and industrial centers.  Their recycling capability can support water resource management goals in many arid areas of the country.  Their use can support municipal wastewater treatment infrastructure by providing options for pretreatment and sewer mining and provide an alternative when centralized plants have reached or exceeded capacity.

Water is becoming a concern throughout the world.  As more governments grasp the reality of population growth coupled with inadequate or nonexistent infrastructure they understand the advantages of decentralized water management and realize that the ‘old’ solutions are not always the right approach.  Onsite/cluster/distributed systems support a growing economy and address wastewater infrastructure issues while improving water quality and providing treatment capacity.  Their use complements existing infrastructure in situations where centralized sewerage is impractical, unaffordable, or water reuse is desired.

Transformative change over how we relate to our water resources is upon us. Rising demands for responsible investments, water conservation, environmental protection, and community involvement are changing 'business as usual' worldwide. Forward-thinking businesses are staying competitive by adapting to new expectations and developing triple bottom line approaches.  These drive efficiency and innovation, build brand reputation and recognition, cut costs and improve profitability. But change doesn't come easily; there is significant risk as well as tremendous opportunity.

With the strong passion to bring effective and affordable solutions to support a growing economy while addressing wastewater infrastructure issues, NOWRA’s focus brings together all industry stakeholders, associated organizations, regulatory authorities and the general public.  This increases awareness of the benefits of onsite, cluster and distributed wastewater management systems that protect and replenish the nation’s water resources. 
NOWRA’s focus provides opportunities for communication between the industry stakeholders (engineers, designers, regulators, researchers, manufacturers, installers and maintenance providers) to review and consider technological research and innovation.  NOWRA encourages a cooperative approach through which industry and government cooperate in the development of research-based, standardized regulations and best management practices for performance. 

NOWRA promotes performance-based concepts that provide consistent quality of goods and services to the public.  These concepts apply to site and soil assessment, system design and layout, installation, maintenance, and monitoring.

Through the Model Code Framework, education and training programs and research on product innovation, NOWRA encourages the application of performance standards that meet or exceed public health and environmental requirements.  As a result, wastewater can be safely recycled back into the local environment. 

CIDWT Decentralized Wastewater Treatment Glossary
2nd Edition, October 2009

• Distributed Management: A method to manage wastewater infrastructure where a responsible management entity combines onsite, cluster, and centralized treatment in a cost effective and sustainable manner.
• Cluster Systems: Wastewater treatment systems designed to serve two or more sewage-generating dwellings or facilities with multiple owners; typically includes a comprehensive, sequential land-use planning component and private ownership.
• Collection Systems: Wastewater treatment system that conveys sewage or effluent from multiple sources to a location where treatment and dispersal occurs; see also cluster systems.
• Community Systems: Publicly owned wastewater treatment system for collection, treatment and dispersal of wastewater from two or more lots, or two or more equivalent dwelling units.
• Decentralized Systems: Wastewater treatment system for collection, treatment, and dispersal/reuse of wastewater from individual homes, clusters of homes, isolated communities, industries, or institutional facilities, at or near the point of waste generation.
• Individual Systems (a.k.a., Septic Systems): Wastewater treatment system designed to serve one sewage-generating dwelling or facility.
• Onsite System: Wastewater treatment system relying on natural processes and or mechanical components to collect and treat sewage from one or more dwellings, buildings, or structures and disperse the resulting effluent on property owned by the individual or entity.

Read a Strategic Framework for Unsewered Wastewater Infrastructure 

People Caring About Water