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WaterOperator.org 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

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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

Decentralized Wastewater on Tribal Lands | Onsite Overview #4

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Tribal communities face unique challenges when it comes to the management of decentralized wastewater and it’s important that resources are developed with these specific challenges in mind. Simply having a septic system is not unique to those living in Indian Country, but many organizations have recognized that the basic resources available may not cover the questions that arise for tribes when it comes to the operation of these essential utilities. We have compiled a list of resources to get you started if you are interested in finding tribal specific information about septic systems.

Our best resources on this topic:
Water and Wastewater Utility Operation and Management for Tribes - Decentralized Wastewater Systems | U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
This 29-minute presentation includes such topics as system inspection, system maintenance, and "things to avoid" for septic tanks. The module provides an overview of decentralized wastewater treatment and processes and includes a special look at innovative decentralized technologies and "best practices" for managing onsite systems.

Helping Solve Wastewater Challenges in Indian Country | University of Minnesota Water Resources Center
This 56-page guide provides tribal community members and tribal wastewater professionals with a four-phase process on how to assess and find appropriate solutions to community wastewater issues in Indian country. It includes guidance on generating a Community Wastewater Assessment Report, types of septic systems, how to choose the most appropriate wastewater treatment system for your community, and how to implement these solutions. The process outlined here weaves in significant considerations specific to Indian country that will likely improve the success of wastewater projects.

A Homeowner's Guide to Septic Systems for Tribal Communities | U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
This 9-page guide, from the U.S. EPA’s SepticSmart! program, focuses on the unique factors of tribal communities and homeowners on tribal lands in caring for their systems. It contains tips for properly maintaining septic systems as well as troubleshooting for common failure causes.

Onsite Wastewater Management: A Manual for Tribes | New Mexico State University
This 80-page manual helps tribes to take steps to ensure that sources of drinking water are clean and adequately protected against contamination, and that wastewater is appropriately managed. Chapter topics include: Historical Perspective of Native American Wastewater Management, Soils and Site Inspection, Septic Systems, Passive Advanced Treatment Systems, Mechanical Systems, Disinfection, and Reuse and Conservation of Wastewater.

Using a Responsible Management Entity (RME) to Manage Tribal Onsite (Septic) Wastewater Treatment Systems | U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
This 4-page fact sheet/brochure describes the use of a centralized approach for the management of septic systems using a Responsible Management Entity (RME) for oversight and maintenance.

How to find more resources on this topic on our website?
If you are interested in looking through our database for other resources on this topic follow the instructions below:

  1. Select "CATEGORY" in the dropdown then choose "Decentralized WW Systems." 
  2. Once you make that selection, a second dropdown will appear where you can choose "TYPE" if you are looking for a specific kind of resource (videos, factsheets, etc.)
  3. In the Keyword Filter, type “tribal” to make sure the resources are more targeted towards this topic.
  4. The last step is to click the "Retrieve Documents" button to see your results.

How Septic Systems Work | Onsite Overview #3

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Whether you are a septic system homeowner or an onsite wastewater professional, it is important to know all you can about the ins and outs of septic systems. Whether it be the basics of how they work, what types are available, or how to clean a septic tank, there’s no such thing as being overeducated when it comes to such an integral aspect of so many homes in the U.S. We have compiled a list of resources to get you started if you are interested in learning how to properly care for and maintain a septic system.

Our best resources on this topic:
About Septic Systems | Oregon Department of Environmental Quality
This webpage provides a brief introduction to septic systems, how septic systems operate, an inspection checklist for those who are planning to buy a property with a septic system, how to go about getting a new septic system installed, and a septic system maintenance fact sheet.

All About Septics | University of Minnesota Onsite Sewage Treatment Program
This webpage provides detailed information on septic system types (type i and iii systems), advanced treatment systems (type iv systems), special situations, and other onsite treatment areas of interest.

Septic System Basics Video: Septics 101 Course | Washington State Department of Health
This 19-minute video intended for homeowners explains the basics of how on-site sewage systems function and the steps you should take to keep your system working well. The video is divided into 5 chapters that can be viewed separately. Chapters include: Introduction and Sewage Overview, System Basics and Soil, Types of Septic Systems, and System Care & Maintenance.

Cleaning an Onsite Sewage System | Indiana Onsite Wastewater Professionals Association
This 2-page fact sheet provides onsite owners some basics about the system. These include: How an Onsite Sewage System Works, Inspection of the System, Cleaning the Outlet Filter, and Cleaning the Septic Tank. Additional references are also included in this fact sheet.

Septic Tank Pumping | Idaho Department of Environmental Quality
This 11-page manual was developed to help pumpers understand these important aspects of septage handling and disposal. Topics covered are: Septic System Components, Checking the Level of Scum and Sludge in a Septic Tank, Permit Requirements, Septic Tank Pumping, Equipment for Pumping and Transporting Septage, Septage Storage, and Septage Disposal.

How to find more resources on this topic on our website?
If you are interested in looking through our database for other resources on this topic follow the instructions below:

  1. Select "CATEGORY" in the dropdown then choose "Decentralized WW Systems." 
  2. Once you make that selection, a second dropdown will appear where you can choose "TYPE" if you are looking for a specific kind of resource (videos, factsheets, etc.)
  3. Optional: In the Keyword Filter, you can type a specific word or phrase to target the search even further.
  4. The last step is to click the "Retrieve Documents" button to see your results. 

Health and Safety for Onsite Workers | Onsite Overview #2

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Onsite professionals are exposed to many dangers on the job, and it is important to be aware of all the appropriate health and safety precautions that will keep workers (as well as the general public) safe. Outside of the day-to-day risks that decentralized wastewater workers must face, there is also the concern of public and environmental health when septic systems are not maintained and repaired correctly. We have compiled a list of resources to get you started if you are interested in learning more about decentralized wastewater systems and how they can affect health and safety.

Our best resources on this topic:
“More Than Just Dirty” Pathogen Exposures to Workers in the On-Site Industry | Washington Onsite Sewage Association
This 107-slide presentation provides research results on a study conducted to examine pathogen exposures to workers in the on-site industry, discuss the various types of pathogen exposures and health impacts, what kind of personal protective equipment (PPE) is available to on-site workers, and basic hygiene practices to reduce risks from handling human waste.

Septic Tank Lid Safety | Washington State Department of Health
This 1-page fact sheet has a list of 7 precautions to make sure no one accidently falls into your septic tank. This includes knowing where your septic system lids or covers are located, use bolts, screws, or other locks to secure the lids and prevent easy access, teach children that the septic tank lids are not to be played on or opened.

What is a Cesspool? | Wastewater Alternatives & Innovations
This 3-minute video describes what cesspools are, and why they need to be converted. Basically, a cesspool is a hole in the ground receiving untreated wastewater. Cesspools pollute the environment and endanger public health. The focus is on Hawaii since they have the greatest number of cesspools per capita for a total of 83,000 in the state that are planned to be converted by 2050.

Decentralized Wastewater Treatment Can Protect the Environment, Public Health, and Water Quality | U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
This 2-page fact sheet describes how a decentralized wastewater treatment system can provide reliable wastewater treatment, reduce conventional pollutants, nutrients, and emerging contaminants, and mitigate contamination and health risks associated with wastewater. A case study on where this worked is also provided.

The Need to Mandate Openings at Surface on Septic Tanks | National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association
This 20-page presentation points out the common problem with access to septic tanks. Septic tanks are often installed without clear indications as to their locations and/or depths, creating several issues that should be addressed in order to properly maintain our waste management systems. Potential risks include the contamination of groundwater as potential injury to workers, homeowners, and the general public. The proposed solution is to install risers with covers to the surface as a reasonable way to assure proper maintenance.

How to find more resources on this topic on our website?
If you are interested in looking through our database for the other resources on this topic follow the instructions below:

  1. Select "CATEGORY" in the dropdown then choose "Decentralized WW Systems." 
  2. Once you make that selection, a second dropdown will appear where you can choose "TYPE" if you are looking for a specific kind of resource (videos, factsheets, etc.)
  3. Optional: In the Keyword Filter, you can type a specific word or phrase to target the search even further.
  4. The last step is to click the "Retrieve Documents" button to see your results.  

Careers in Decentralized Wastewater | Onsite Overview #1

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The decentralized wastewater sector has thousands of well-paying jobs to offer, so why is the field experiencing a shortage of qualified workers? According to the U.S. EPA, “there are many reasons for this shortage, including the high number of existing systems that require routine maintenance, an increase in the number of systems installed annually, and an aging decentralized workforce that is expected to retire in high numbers over the next several years.” Due to these factors, the need to recruit and train new decentralized wastewater professionals is more critical than ever. We have compiled a list of resources to get you started if you are interested in starting a career in the field of decentralized wastewater or just interested in learning more.

Our best resources on this topic:
Career Perspectives in Decentralized Wastewater Management | U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
This 2-hour webinar recording highlights the careers and perspectives of three decentralized wastewater professionals - each bringing more than 40 years of experience to the industry. During this webinar, our speakers shared their experiences spanning decades of work in the decentralized field, including how they started, why they got into this field, how the industry has changed over the years, and what their thoughts are on the future of the industry.

Education and Training Landscape: Providing a Supply of Talent for Decentralized/Onsite Wastewater Occupations | U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
This 27-page report focuses on understanding the demand and supply of labor for the decentralized industry. It builds off the report, Pipeline to a Sustainable Workforce: A Report on Decentralized/Onsite Wastewater Occupations, through identification of education and training programs aligned with five key decentralized job functions necessary to be successful in decentralized career pathways and occupations. It provides the decentralized industry and educational institutions with an understanding of the skills and training aligned to these job functions and high growth decentralized occupations.

Decentralized Wastewater Systems - Problems and Solutions from the Field | Rural Community Assistance Partnership
This 90-minute webinar recording includes a discussion of experiences RCAP Technical Assistance Providers (TAPs) have encountered in the field. It covers the following topics: Training & Technical Assistance Examples, Operation & Maintenance Issues Discovered, and Resources & Tools that are available to provide guidance. The webinar is targeted at individuals who operate, manage, or own a decentralized system, as well as TA providers and regulators who deal with these systems in their professional role.

Pipeline to a Sustainable Workforce: A Report on Decentralized/Onsite Wastewater Occupations | U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
This 34-page report provides a foundational understanding of the career pathways and job clusters in the decentralized industry. It further expands upon occupational characteristics, including growth projections, as well as basic education and training requirements aligned with occupations in the industry, outlining challenges that have led to shortage in the supply of decentralized workers. This report is intended to be used by decentralized professionals looking to better understand the demand for and variety of decentralized occupations.

Decentralized Wastewater Treatment Can Be Cost Effective and Economical | National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association
This 2-page fact sheet explains how to avoid large capital costs and maintenance costs for decentralized systems. Decentralized wastewater treatment can provide a long-term and cost-effective solution for communities by avoiding large capital cost, reducing operation and maintenance costs, and promoting business and job opportunities. Two examples of where it worked are also discussed.

How to find more resources on this topic on our website?
If you are interested in looking through our database for other resources on this topic follow the instructions below:

  1. Select "CATEGORY" in the dropdown then choose "Decentralized WW Systems." 
  2. Once you make that selection, a second dropdown will appear where you can choose "TYPE" if you are looking for a specific kind of resource (videos, factsheets, etc.)
  3. Optional: In the Keyword Filter, you can type a specific word or phrase to target the search even further.
  4. The last step is to click the "Retrieve Documents" button to see your results.

Webinar: Decentralized Wastewater Resources for Tribes

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In this webinar recording you’ll learn how to access our clearinghouse of information specifically for wastewater and water operators on WaterOperator.org. You will be shown how to access links to over 15,000 free, publicly available resources, a nationwide calendar, and much more. This webinar was focused specifically on resources that relate to decentralized wastewater for tribes.

The webinar will answer questions such as:

  • What is WaterOperator.org?
  • What topics does the website cover?
  • What onsite wastewater resources are available?
  • How to find the Tribal Contact Manager?
  • What resources are available for tribal personnel about decentralized wastewater?

Below you’ll find a recording of the training, held in September 2023.

 

Featured Videos: Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems: Regulations, Installation, Maintenance and Inspection

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Nationwide, and in Colorado, improperly functioning onsite wastewater treatment systems pose a risk to drinking water supplies. These videos from Colorado Rural Water Association inform system owners about the regulations associated with onsite systems, how the systems function, and most importantly, how to maintain and inspect individual systems to protect water quality and the environment. 


Interested in getting under the hood and seeing how a septic system works from a homeowners perspective? While every system is different, they all have the same general parts and pieces. Learn about what goes where and why from Carla Ostberg of All Service Septic & CBO Inc. in this 6-minute video from Colorado Rural Water. 

Featured Videos: Onsite Wastewater Systems

According to the US Census Bureau, one in four homes in the U.S. is served by an onsite wastewater system. Our first featured video this week explores some of these onsite options and then explains in simple terms how each of these systems work in different soil conditions and what it takes to maintain them. In the end, the video shows how the cost-effectiveness of septic systems can often more than outweigh the cost of a centralized system for many smaller communities. 


Wondering how to find the funding to get these types of decentralized systems off the ground? Our second video this week explores how innovative partnerships and Clean Water State Revolving Funds can be used for exactly these kinds of projects.


Do you want to find out more about onsite wastewater options and how to pay for them? Head over to our 
resource library and pick "decentralized ww systems" as a category!