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WaterOperator.org Blog


Laura Schultz
Laura Schultz
Laura Schultz's Blog

Who Is NOWRA and What Do They Do?

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The National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association (NOWRA) is the premier non-profit organization in the United States that is dedicated to advancing the onsite and decentralized wastewater industry. All types of related professions are represented in membership; including installers, regulators, manufacturers, suppliers, educators, and more.

The association has been advocating for sound practices, public awareness, and solutions to challenges for the onsite and decentralized industry since its founding in 1992. NOWRA’s national headquarters are located in Westford, Massachusetts, though a number of state-level affiliates can be found throughout the U.S. and Canada.

NOWRA’s official mission statement is:

  • To strengthen and promote the onsite and decentralized wastewater industry through activities that support recognition and promotion of professionalism for industry practitioners.
  • To implement best management practices throughout the industry that provide sustainable wastewater infrastructure solutions.
  • To achieve greater public awareness of the economic, environmental, and public health benefits of onsite and decentralized facilities.
  • To serve the public interest.

This mission’s execution is guided by a Strategic Framework for Unsewered Wastewater Infrastructure. The principal goal of this framework is to achieve sustainable development and protect both human health and environmental quality. Click here to read more about the framework and its seven components.

NOWRA’s website has a number of resources available for members, including a news & publications page, a documents library, an events calendar with national & state-level events, and a signup form for the group’s email newsletter. You can locate septic system professionals through the Septic Locator tool; all NOWRA members are automatically listed to the locator database.

Perhaps most importantly, NOWRA has a wealth of educational courses available to register for on its website. NOWRA’s “Installer Academy” ensures that all industry professionals can access quality training. Courses are available both in self-paced online formats or in-person through trainings arranged with NOWRA’s expert instructors. The popular online courses include “NOWRA A-Z,” an overview of onsite wastewater treatment; “NOWRA Installer Training,” an overview of installation for both new and experienced installers; “NOWRA Troubleshooting,” an overview of the typical treatment process; and “NOWRA Design,” a framework for designing decentralized systems.

NOWRA online courses can be purchased by both members and non-members, but are available to members at a discount. You can find which states have pre-approved NOWRA’s courses for continuing education credits at this page.

The association also has a number of resources available for community education. Decentralized wastewater systems and the advantages they provide are often poorly understood. A long list of resources explaining the benefits, details, and funding of onsite and decentralized systems may be found here — including resources from NOWRA itself, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency and National Environmental Services Center.

Each year, NOWRA holds an onsite wastewater mega-conference in conjunction with the National Association of Wastewater Technicians (NAWT) and the State Onsite Regulators Association (SORA). The 2023 event was held in Hampton, Virginia, and papers and presentations from the conference are available to review here. This year’s event will be held from October 20-23, in Spokane, Washington. Registration will open by late spring or early summer.

If you are interested in lobbying, NOWRA is constantly working in Washington, D.C., at the Capitol and the EPA, advocating to make sure there is always a seat at the table for those in the onsite and decentralized wastewater industry when it comes to wastewater policy and funding. There are a variety of ways you can get involved in the advocacy and lobbying arm of NOWRA.

From furthering education to assistance in growing businesses to information and outreach to national advocacy, there are many reasons to become a NOWRA member. To learn how to join the national organization or one of the 23 state-level affiliates, visit this page. Direct NOWRA membership costs $150 per year for industry professionals, $95 per year for industry regulators, and $35 per year for students.

At WaterOperator.org, we currently have 125 NOWRA resources indexed in our documents database. To find them, select "HOST" in the dropdown menu, then choose "National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association." Once you make that selection, a second dropdown will appear where you can choose "CATEGORY," “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.

Webinar Recording: Cybersecurity for Wastewater Operators

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Watch this webinar recording to discover some of the most helpful cybersecurity resources and to learn how to use our search tools at WaterOperator.org to find additional resources and training events. This is the first webinar in our new series for wastewater operators!

The webinar answers questions such as:

  • What is WaterOperator.org and how is it a useful tool for wastewater professionals?
  • What are the best resources we have relating to cybersecurity in the water and wastewater sector?
  • How can you find more cybersecurity resources and other similar resources on WaterOperator.org?

This free series will cover topics relevant to wastewater operators, including funding, asset management, compliance, and water quality. Upcoming events in the series include:

  • Source Water Protection for Communities with Decentralized Wastewater (April 23)
  • Funding Wastewater Infrastructure Projects (June 25)

Certificates of attendance for each session will be delivered upon request. Check with your certification body for acceptance criteria.

Here is the recording of the first webinar, held in February 2024. We cannot provide certificates of attendance for watching the webinar recording.

Decentralized Stakeholder Partnership Renewed

Decentralized MOU partners

In 2005, the Environmental Protection Agency formed a Decentralized Wastewater Partnership with eight initial public and private sector partners, with the goal of improving the overall performance and management of decentralized systems. The partnership’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is renewed every three years with the following five priorities:

  • Increase outreach and public education about decentralized wastewater/septic systems.
  • Identify and utilize current information about decentralized wastewater/septic system use and performance in the United States.
  • Promote advanced decentralized treatment technologies to the wastewater industry and the public.
  • Share information on funding options to help communities and homeowners with decentralized wastewater/septic system repair and replacement.
  • Address workforce, education, training and research needs related to the decentralized wastewater industry.

The partnership has created more awareness of decentralized issues nationwide through SepticSmart Week and other promotional activities the group has planned. It has also led to more interaction between member organizations, helping to develop more consistency in messaging as well as more cooperation and working relationships, which helps advance the goals of the MOU.

The partnership’s MOU was most recently renewed on December 5, 2023, for the seventh signing. The partner organizations have grown in number from eight to 25 as of the newest MOU. Five organizations joined the partnership for the newest cycle, including the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development (USDA-RD) and the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH). 

The new MOU “[renews] the commitment of EPA and its partner organizations to work together to encourage proper management of decentralized systems and increase collaboration among EPA, state and local governments, and decentralized system practitioners and providers.” The renewal document can be read and downloaded here.

Decentralized MOU Signatories, December 5, 2023

Decentralized MOU Signatories, December 5, 2023

Accomplishments of the 2020 MOU

The chief accomplishment of the 2020 MOU cycle was the implementation of the “Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Community” initiative. A team from the EPA and USDA-RD launched and led the program, with technical assistance provided by the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP), the National Rural Water Association (NRWA), and the Environmental Finance Center Network (EFCN). The pilot program worked in 11 historically underserved communities from Arizona to North Carolina to tackle wastewater management challenges and protect community health.

2022 marked the 10th anniversary of SepticSmart Week, the annual celebration led by the EPA of septic system management. SepticSmart Week 2022 featured a photo challenge which helped create 800,000 impressions on social media. Community and educational events were held across the country.

Partners also released a host of new educational materials throughout the MOU cycle, including reports, position papers, and fact sheets. Notably, RCAP and the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association (NOWRA) released a guidebook and training courses for homeowners with septic systems. The MOU Partnership together updated the online training module “Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center,” and released a series of reports addressing the decentralized industry’s workforce issues.

Among partner organizations, the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) assisted the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in developing the Private Water Network, which trains professionals to manage private water sources effectively. The Water Research Foundation (WRF) completed two major research projects on improving decentralized technologies. RCAP completed over 150 technical assistance projects in 45 states and territories; 26 of which were specifically decentralized and onsite projects.

For our part, the team at WaterOperator.org and the Private Well Class has been an active non-member of the MOU Partnership, participating in meetings, calls, and assisting with the SepticSmart Week committee and activities.

Read the full report on the 2020-2023 accomplishments of the MOU Partnership for more details on these and many more accomplishments.

For More from the Decentralized Wastewater Partnership

Learning Lessons from Supply Chain Disruption

Potassium permanganate

One of the most prominent economic impacts to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic was the breakdown of supply chains for many consumer, medical, and industrial products. Though the shortages of goods such as toilet paper, semiconductor chips, personal protective equipment and more made widespread headlines, the range of items affected spread much wider — including to the supply of critical water treatment chemicals. The American Water Works Association found in November 2021 that 45% of surveyed water utilities were experiencing shortages of water treatment chemicals, among other staffing and supply issues. 

Shortages of chlorine did make news in the summers of 2021 and 2022 due to the difficulty pool-owners had obtaining it to clean their pool water, but the threat it posed to water utilities — where chlorine is a critical component of the treatment and disinfection process — was much less widely known. In 2021, the pandemic spurred the shortage by causing a decrease in production capacity, an increase in demand (largely from a boom of newly-installed pools), and other logistical failures. However, non-COVID factors also played a role in the shortages.

Hurricane Laura, which struck Louisiana in August 2020, severely damaged the BioLab Inc. chemical plant, a major US producer of chlorine. In 2022, the labor dispute between rail workers and rail companies briefly led to an embargo on the rail transport of hazardous materials including chlorine and other water treatment chemicals. While further major disruptions did not occur in 2023, the EPA considers the chlorine supply chain to be “vulnerable to periods of reduced product allocation and/or price increases” and maintains a page tracking the status of chlorine availability and pricing. 

The most severe supply chain disruption in 2023 for water treatment chemicals came right at the start of the year — when a four-alarm fire devastated the Carus Chemical factory in LaSalle, Illinois, on January 11. Carus is the only producer of potassium permanganate in North America, which is used to oxidize contaminants in drinking water. While the company initially warned of  a 3-month outage in its production capacity, potassium permanganate production did not resume at Carus until August. Luckily, overseas imports were able to fill demand after some initial shortages, and the EPA found that supply had stabilized by May.

Other water treatment chemical supply chains that the EPA considered to be disrupted since 2020 include carbon dioxide, sodium hydroxide and hypochlorite, hydrochloric acid, ferric and ferrous chloride, oxygen, and fluorosilicic acid. However, none of these disruptions are considered to be ongoing.

While supply chains of water treatment chemicals have always been susceptible to periods of economic strain, such as the Great Recession of 2007-09, COVID-19 revealed many more risks in the system. According to the EPA’s “Understanding Water Treatment Chemical Supply Chains” report:  

“The supply disruptions that have occurred during the pandemic era revealed a range and intensity of supply chains stressors that had not previously been observed in such a short timeframe. While high-impact events such as a pandemic or repeated extreme weather events concentrated on industrial hubs may have been considered low-probability in previous assessments, supply chain risk planning may have to consider greater frequency and co-occurrence of such high-impact events.”

The most prevalent long-standing threats to the stability of supply chains include natural disasters, equipment failures, logistical problems such as transportation delays, and malicious acts like cyberattacks and sabotage — none of which will stop being a concern even as the pandemic is increasingly behind us. International markets can also be severely affected by trade barriers, armed conflicts, and natural disasters. 

Perhaps the most prominent chemical shortage preceding 2020 was a national shortage of chlorine in 1974. While a single cause of the shortage could not be identified, New York Times reporting at the time cited the new requirement to chlorinate wastewater, the closure of production facilities, and the energy crisis of the 1970s (which was peaking with the 1973-74 oil shock) as likely factors.

For more information on the supply chain history of various water treatment chemicals, the EPA’s supply chain profiles of 46 commonly used chemicals contains shortage histories for 2000-2022, as well as risk profiles for shortages of each chemical. Risk ratings for these chemicals can also be found in the “Understanding Water Treatment Chemical Supply Chains” report.

As for future concerns, chlorine availability could continue to be made vulnerable by natural disasters in the Gulf Coast region. 33% of American chlor-alkali facilities, in which most chlorine is produced, are located along the Gulf Coast, which is both historically prone to hurricanes and under greater threat as climate change intensifies storms. Disruptions in chlorine supply also lead to disruptions in ferric chloride supply, which requires hydrochloric acid. 

The EPA has many resources to assist in preparing for and responding to supply chain challenges. The critical steps to prepare are:

  1. Using federal and state support programs for operational efficiency and cost reduction
  2. Management of supplier relationships
  3. Coordinating with other utilities, state and local agencies, and water sector associations
  4. Instituting operational flexibilities 

To respond to disruptions, the EPA recommends:

  1. Seeking federal support
  2. Communicating with suppliers
  3. Coordinating with partners

Follow the Supply Chain Resilience Guide for more information, instructions, and tips to prepare and respond.  

More information, tools, and links from the EPA: