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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.

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.

The Impact of Climate Change on Massachusetts Septic Systems

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Climate Change + Population Increase = Imbalance in the Waterways of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. 

The old septic systems used by about 95% of the growing population of Cape Cod are contributing to rising nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the waterways which are slowly warming due to climate change. Septic systems are a great option in places where homes are too spread out to justify sewers and water treatment plants but they don’t filter out the nitrogen and phosphorus that ends up seeping into groundwater. When nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus runoff into the water, they act as a fertilizer for bacteria and algae. This combination of factors has resulted in an “explosion” of blue-green algae to take over the Cape and wreak havoc on the ecosystem.

After several lawsuits filed by environmentalists, the state of Massachusetts has proposed that local communities are required to fix the problem within 20 years. This has created some pushback from the community of Mashpee, MA that has already started installing a sewer system, the construction of which was projected to be spread out over 25 years. If the proposed rule is enforced, that would force the community to move faster and find a way to cover the huge cost of construction. This raises the issue of cost in general since sewers and water treatment plants are extremely expensive for the community and new septic systems can be a huge expense to the individual homeowners in the area, many of whom are retired and living on fixed incomes.

How this plays out in Massachusetts will be viewed by other states in the future as they seek to address similar surface water quality issues in areas with a high density of decentralized wastewater treatment. 

For more information concerning Nutrient Runoff from Septic Systems check out some of the following resources:

For more information concerning Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) check out some of the following resources from WaterOperator.org: