rss

WaterOperator.org Blog

Source Water Protection for Communities with Decentralized Wastewater | Recorded on May 28, 2024

source water protection for decentralized webinar.png

In this recording of our recent live webinar "Source Water Protection for Communities with Decentralized Wastewater" viewers will discover some of the most helpful source water protection resources and learn how to use our search tools at WaterOperator.org to find additional resources and training events. 

This webinar series from WaterOperator.org covers topics relevant to wastewater operators, including funding, asset management, compliance, and water quality. Certificates of attendance will be delivered upon request to live attendees, but are not available for watching this replay. 

Water Rights for Cash in Nevada

Blog Post Template - Rural Home.png

Many landowners all over the state of Nevada are choosing to surrender their water rights​ in exchange for cash payments. The constant drought conditions combined with over pumping have depleted the groundwater that communities depend on, and many landowners have made the decision to sell their water rights rather than drilling a new well or extending an existing well. 

The Voluntary Water Rights Retirement Program​ was allocated $25 million in funding and was created to purchase groundwater rights from private landowners in over-pumped, over-appropriated basins in several Nevada communities. The Central Nevada Regional Water Authority​ is an agency that proactively addresses water resource issues in this region, and they report that there are "25 over-appropriated groundwater basins, eight of which are also over-pumped."

As of May 2024, the program has "received commitments to retire more than 25,000 acre-feet of groundwater annually...which is about the average amount of water in both the Boca Reservoir and Donner Lake any given year." Water regulators have until September 2024 to enter into contracts and acquire water rights.

Most of the funding will likely go to Diamond Valley, NV which is the state's only "critical management area." This means that "the valley’s groundwater levels are rapidly declining, and groundwater rights holders in the area are required to create a plan to address over-pumping or risk losing their rights...If all sales go through, the state expects to retire about 30% of the annual groundwater yield in Diamond Valley," said Jeff Fontaine, Executive Director of the Central Nevada Regional Water Authority and the Humboldt River Basin Water Authority.

Due to the success of this limited program, water managers and conservation groups in the state have expressed the need to make Voluntary Water Rights Retirement a permanent, statewide program. 

Coliform Sampling

Blog Post Template - A-Z Total Coliform.png

There are a variety of bacteria, parasites, and viruses which can cause health problems when humans ingest them in drinking water. Testing water for each of these germs would be difficult and expensive. Instead, water quality and public health workers measure for the presence of bacteria in drinking water using coliform bacteria as an indicator. The presence of any coliforms in drinking water suggests that there may be disease-causing agents in the water.

We have 499 resources (and counting) on Total Coliform in our Documents Database that provide valuable information on this topic. You can search for documents on potential pathways for coliform contamination, coliform bacteria and well water sampling, best practices for coliform sampling, and many other useful guides that will help you to deliver safe and clean water to utility customers. 

To access the wealth of knowledge on Total Coliform within our database just select "CATEGORY" in the dropdown then choose "Total Coliform." Once you make that selection, a second dropdown will appear where you can choose "HOST," “TYPE,” or “STATE” to narrow the search even further. If you have a specific search term in mind, use the “Keyword Filter” search bar on the right side of the screen.

This is part of our A-Z for Operators series.

Stormwater Runoff

Blog Post Template - A-Z Stormwater.png

Stormwater runoff is generated when precipitation from rain and snowmelt events flows over land or impervious surfaces and does not percolate into the ground. As the runoff flows over the land or impervious surfaces (i.e. paved streets, parking lots, building rooftops, etc.), it accumulates debris, chemicals, sediment, and other pollutants that could adversely affect water quality if the runoff is discharged untreated. Storm sewers can be connected to sanitary sewers and is treated as wastewater when that is the case, so that when discharged it is better for the environment.

We have 554 resources (and counting) on Stormwater in our Documents Database that provide valuable information on this topic. You can search for documents on wet weather management strategies, how to verify the source of inappropriate discharges to storm drainage systems, how to develop a CSO Long-Term Control Plan, and many other useful guides that will help you to deliver safe and clean water to utility customers. 

To access the wealth of knowledge on Stormwater within our database just select "CATEGORY" in the dropdown then choose "Stormwater." Once you make that selection, a second dropdown will appear where you can choose "HOST," “TYPE,” or “STATE” to narrow the search even further. If you have a specific search term in mind, use the “Keyword Filter” search bar on the right side of the screen.

This is part of our A-Z for Operators series.

New Decentralized Wastewater Website Coming Soon!

decen signup.PNG

DecentralizedWastewater.org will be launching soon as a new sister program of WaterOperator.org and PrivateWellClass.org.

Through a partnership of the Illinois State Water Survey and the Rural Community Assistance Partnership, the new website will provide training and technical assistance resources to wastewater professionals, onsite system owners, and managers of centralized and onsite/decentralized wastewater systems. We will host thousands of wastewater training documents, a calendar of training events, a regular webinar series, and more.

If you are seeking documents and events right away, you can check to see what is currently listed on the WaterOperator.org Documents Library and Event Calendar. Existing decentralized wastewater information will continue to be available on WaterOperator.org.

The program’s newsletter will be sent out monthly, and has launched already. You can sign up for the email list here, and check out the January, February, and March editions.

Please feel free to contact us at info@decentralizedwastewater.org if you have any comments, would like us to find something for you, or have information that will help other onsite/decentralized wastewater operators, installers, inspectors, and owners!

Emerging Contaminants and Your Onsite Wastewater Treatment System

contaminant testing1.jpg

When installed, operated, and maintained correctly, septic systems should not pollute groundwater or cause any danger to the drinking water supply. But the unfortunate fact is that pollutants and contaminants do make their way out of septic systems and into groundwater all the same. And this isn’t always to do with poor installation or maintenance — if a septic owner is putting things down their toilets and drains that aren’t meant to be treated by a septic system, these things become all the more likely to get into the groundwater. This is one of the reasons why making sure everyone knows the Three Ps of septic systems is so important! (That’s pee, poop, and toilet paper, of course).

A 2017 study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology showed that American septic systems are regularly depositing pharmaceuticals, consumer product chemicals, and other hazardous chemicals into the environment. Due to their presence in consumer and industrial products throughout society, such chemicals — often called contaminants of emerging concern or emerging contaminants — find their way into bodies and supplies of water in numerous ways, not just through septic systems. They can not only threaten public health by contaminating a human drinking water supply, but cause environmental problems for ecosystems and organisms as well. For instance, the feminization of male fish and fertility issues in other animals have been strongly linked to emerging contaminants.

This 2017 study suggests that besides emphasizing the need to avoid putting pollutants into a septic system, the best way to protect groundwater from septic contamination is keeping septic systems away from the aquifers and wells that supply drinking water. But, of course, many septic systems already exist in such a range and other solutions for preventing them from discharging too many emerging contaminants are needed.

While any chemical going into a septic system that isn’t one of the Three Ps is a contamination risk and absolutely should not enter a septic tank, some chemicals or contaminants will naturally be more of a cause for alarm than others. Right now, the pollutants society is likely most concerned about at large are PFAS compounds and microplastics, both of which have been found coming out of septic systems.

Though PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also commonly known as forever chemicals) have become a high-profile concern in more recent years, PFAS have been one of the most frequently detected compounds in drinking water wells since at least 2016, contamination which has been linked to septic systems.  

For more information on protecting groundwater from failing septic systems and forever chemicals, check out this article on the subject from SCS Engineers.

As for microplastics, the impossibly tiny bits of degraded plastic have been found everywhere from clouds to likely into human brains, and some believe septic tanks are the primary source of microplastics found in underwater drinking water reservoirs. The issue of microplastics in its totality certainly cannot primarily be blamed on septic systems, but figuring out how to decrease their presence in as many sources as possible is critical.

Another consideration with microplastics in septic systems isn’t just the environmental contamination — the buildup of solids in the system can also cause issues for the operation of the system. In fact, a 2015 Pumper Magazine article refers to microplastics as “tiny terrorists” in septic systems.

More to the point, microplastics are a type of solid that “remain[s] suspended are small rough to move readily through the screen and into the soil treatment area. If these solids are small pieces of organic material, they will break down or be consumed in the soil. However, if they are inert particles such as … plastics or other synthetic materials, they will not break down in the soil environment and will plug the soil pores, permanently reducing the ability of the soil to accept septic tank effluent. There is no fix when this happens other than replacement.”

Solutions to protect septic systems and the groundwater reservoirs they feed into from microplastics are hard to come by, short of emphasizing to septic owners the necessity of keeping everything but the Three Ps out of their systems and that they should try to buy fewer products containing microplastics to begin with.

How to Prepare a Septic System for a Large Event

bathroom.jpeg

Residential septic systems are designed to accommodate the wastewater from a specific number of people, typically judged by the number of bedrooms in the home. This normally doesn’t represent any issues for the regular residents, but the extra bathroom use necessitated by holding a large party or gathering can pose overload challenges for the septic system.

If a septic system is flooded by the overload of water from party guests in a concentrated timeframe, the overwhelming of the tank and drainfield could lead to sewage backups and flushing untreated effluent into the drainfield. In short, a quite possibly ruined party!

There are steps that homeowners can take to prepare for the impact on the septic system ahead of the party; mostly involving efficient use and management of water ahead of time. These are the steps advised by the septic education program at Michigan State University Extension:

  • In the days leading up to the party, minimize the amount of water used for laundry, dishwashers, and showers.
  • If the planned cooking is water intensive, do as much food prep and cooking ahead of time as possible.
  • Rent a portable bathroom.
  • Post bathroom rules to advise guests what can be flushed and other bathroom/septic safety tips.
  • Have the septic system inspected and pumped before the party.
  • Make sure that other outside sources of water, like eavestroughs or gutters, are routed away from the septic drainfield.

More Advice

 

OSHA Requirements for Pumpers

osha.png

It’s never a bad time for a refresh on the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (better known as OSHA). The act, passed in 1970, comprises a set of federal standards for workplace safety, but it also allows individual states to submit and operate their own safety plans and requirements. State plans may cover all workers in a state, or may only cover state and local government workers only. It is important to know which category your state falls under.

OSHA state plans covering private and state/local government workplaces:
Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawai’i, Kentucky, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming

OSHA state plans covering only state/local government workplaces:
Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Virgin Islands

No state plan, follows federal OSHA plans:  
Alabama, American Samoa, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Northern Mariana Islands, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Washington D.C., West Virginia, Wisconsin

State plans often don’t differ drastically from the federal OSHA plan, but the states of California, Michigan, Oregon, and Washington do have plans with substantial differences from the federal one.

Find your state OSHA office here >>

If you are in need of assistance in identifying and/or fixing workplace safety issues, most states do have consultation services available for free as part of the On-Site Consultation Program. Other OSHA programs workplaces can participate in include the Alliance Program, the OSHA Strategic Partnership Program, the Voluntary Protection Programs, and the OSHA Challenge Program.

Read more about the OSHA cooperative programs here >>

Keep in mind that the supervisor or crew leader of an onsite/decentralized wastewater work crew will typically be the OSHA competent person (unless there is a different employee specifically assigned to oversee safety). Whoever is in charge of safety, they must be able to identify critical issues, know and follow OSHA requirements, enforce a written safety plan, and create a culture of safety for the workforce.

The top reasons for accidents include rushing, poor concentration, and simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A comprehensive safety plan can help address some of these causes and minimize damages after accidents do occur.

For more:

 

Septic System Inspection Basics

Blog Post Template - septic inspection.png

Inspections are an integral part of making sure that a septic system is operating properly. Homeowners often overlook having a septic inspection done since systems are located underground and out of sight. However, regular inspections help to make sure that everyone in the household is protected from getting sick due to leaks or any other issues from the septic system. A routine inspection schedule will help to prevent the necessity of expensive repairs to the system and to avoid a sewage backup in the home. Septic system inspections should be done every 1 to 3 years for as long as you own your home.

What to expect in a typical septic system inspection? In general, an inspection will involve the following:

  • Review of the system permit, design, and installation records (including system age)
  • Review of the septic tank pumping and system maintenance records
  • Opening and inspecting all tanks (septic tank, pump tank, distribution box)
  • Evaluating the septic tank sludge and scum levels and determining the need to pump
  • Assessing the condition of the septic tank effluent filter (if installed)
  • Looking for signs of leakage, such as low water levels in the tank
  • Looking for signs of backup, such as staining in the tank above the outlet pipe
  • Evaluating the integrity of the tank, inlet and outlet pipes and looking for signs of corrosion
  • Verifying all electrical connections, pumps, controls, and wiring are intact
  • Possibly using a camera to look at solid pipes and leach lines for blockages or collapsed piping
  • Evaluating the drainfield for signs of system failure, such as standing water (surfacing) or unequal drainage
  • Possibly excavating parts of the drainfield to look for signs of ponding in the system or groundwater impacting the drainfield
  • Examining the distribution box for structural integrity and to make sure drain lines are receiving equal flow
  • Reviewing other available records on water use and required inspections, monitoring, and reporting to ensure system compliance with local regulations regarding function and permit conditions.

EPA’s Quick Tip Video walks through a typical inspection:


Contact your local permitting authority (i.e., local health or environmental department) for a list of professional inspectors in your area.

How to Abandon a Septic System

abandoned septic.jpeg

There’s a number of situations in which a septic tank/system might need to be abandoned: replacing it with a new system, connecting to a city sewer, or abandoning a property altogether. Septic tanks, cesspools, leaching pits, dry wells, and everything related must be properly cared for and not simply left as they are. Most important is to ensure that access for future discharge from the system will never be possible.

Many states or localities will have specific requirements for procedures on abandoning a septic system. For example, you can take a look at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s guidance on abandoning a sub-surface sewage treatment system, where several state codes are referenced.

According to Sara Heger, septic educator at the University of Minnesota, there are three common practices for what to do with the empty tank:

  1. Remove and dispose of the tank at a landfill.
  2. Crush the tank entirely and backfill the hole. Water has to be able to drain through it, so it must be completely broken.
  3. Fill the tank with a material like concrete that won’t let liquids flow through. There must be no risk of collapse in this scenario.

Basically, you never want to have an abandoned septic tank lying out exposed like in the photo above! Before codes and regulations for old septic systems came into place, it was common practice to simply leave the tanks where they were and forget about them. But this is quite dangerous. Old homes that were hooked into a sewer system long after construction should be inspected for old septic systems when sold.

An improperly abandoned septic system poses several possible risks. They could collapse into sinkholes, spread disease if untreated waste comes into contact with groundwater, or release toxic gasses like methane and hydrogen sulfide.

Be on the lookout for these signs of an abandoned septic system that is leaking, from B&B Pumping in Fort Worth: excessive weed growth on a lawn or algae on a pond, a perpetually soggy patch of lawn, an area of lawn that smells like human waste, unstable and sinking land, or pipes physically protruding from the ground.

Building over the top of even a properly abandoned septic tank isn’t a good idea, since sinking problems or leaked pollution could still occur if the area isn’t handled with care.