Alabama Onsite Wastewater Association

Down in the beautiful state of Alabama, the summers are long and hot, hospitality is part of the culture, and the cities and small towns are chock full of history. Unfortunately for some of Alabama’s residents, “historic” would also be the best way to describe their household sanitation and waste treatment. It has been a long-term problem in this otherwise lovely state and an issue that has been a keystone of the Alabama Onsite Wastewater Association.
The association is a non-profit organization that represents the manufacturers, installers, and pumpers of septic tanks, along with those involved in the portable toilet industry. The group conducts training programs that can prepare both members and nonmembers for testing by the state board, explained Executive Director Dave Roll.
The group proudly claims 400 members, but many more individuals participate in the association’s several training and certification programs throughout the year. Testing is conducted by the state-run board, a separate group that is responsible for licensing and enforcing Alabama’s rules on septic tanks, pumping, and related issues.
As an aside, Roll has heard that a handful of AOWA members have moved their equipment to the state’s coastline to help with the massive and ever-expanding Gulf oil spill cleanup. Some of Alabama’s beautiful beaches have been closed, and members of the association are using their pump trucks to suck up oil.
Membership in the Alabama Onsite Wastewater Association is voluntary, but its classes and related activities are not limited to members. “If you want to be an installer in Alabama, you might take a class we offer,” Roll explained.
Membership, naturally, comes with several advantages, many of which are relatively common to similar associations around the country. For example, the AOWA can secure group rates for health insurance for its members, a valuable benefit considering that onsite wastewater providers and others in the industry tend to be small companies or family-run businesses with a handful of employees.
Another benefit, Roll said, is that the association has an attorney—formerly an attorney for the state wastewater board—on hand who specializes in onsite wastewater issues. Members can receive one free consultation from him on issues relating to septic systems or similar matters that relate to their business operations. The attorney is also available for hire if the AOWA member so chooses.
AOWA also grants annual scholarships to members, their children, and spouses. Recently, the group awarded sixteen $1,000 scholarships. Because of tight finances this year, the association was able to provide ten $500 scholarships, still an impressive amount for a relatively small group.
Possibly the association’s most remarkable project is the one that battles sewage issues in some of Alabama’s poorest, and mainly, rural areas.
“In Alabama, there are not hundreds, not thousands, but tens of thousands of people who have a septic tank that is not working properly, or they have no septic system at all, i.e., they have a pipe that runs out of the bottom of their trailer onto the ground,” Roll said. To address the problem, several years ago the association began what it calls its TRAC program, which creatively meets the needs of homeowners with a blend of volunteer labor, donated materials, and certification opportunities.
After a homeowner applies to the program and is selected, AOWA finds volunteers to do the work, experts to conduct onsite training that also helps to meet continuing education hours, and manufacturers to donate tanks and related septic field products. With the cost of a new septic system running between $3,000 and $4,000 in Alabama, such an undertaking would be otherwise unattainable for low-income applicants.
AOWA generally installs or upgrades one system per month. Over the past three years, the association has completed 60 such systems throughout the state, Roll said. It’s a community service project of which he is understandably proud and one that relies on the cooperation and generosity of dozens of people each year.
“Their support of us has been magnificent,” Roll said. The need is great. “I have literally 100 applications on my desk for it.”
AOWA has found not only a way to serve its members, but also a way to serve the neediest of Alabama’s residents. It’s an association that works on many levels – through volunteerism coupled with real-world experience by certified instruction in the field.
Said Roll, “At the end of the day, everyone drives off. They can flush their toilet and (our volunteers) can get their education.”

Story by Marie Elium



Please follow and like us:

One Response to “Alabama Onsite Wastewater Association”