I travel a fair amount, and as a result, I spend a lot of time talking to people at 32,000 feet in the air.  I was on a trip out east when the man sitting next to me noticed I was working on an article dealing with water quality.  He introduced himself and explained that he was also involved with water-quality issues, and from the way he spoke, I could tell he was pretty high on the food chain.   
We actually made a rather comical pair; he was a very distinguished gentleman in a tailored suit, high-dollar shoes, sporting a classy haircut, and trim beard, while I was in a work shirt, shorts, and a baseball cap.  When I told him I did public speaking, he gave me a questioning glance, which prompted me to explain that my audience includes homeowners and contractors, not academics, and in most cases, these people didn’t want to see a guy in a suit; they wanted a “regular Joe.”    
Somewhere over Detroit, he mentioned his pet project was cleaning up Chesapeake Bay.  When I asked him what plans they had in mind, he said they wanted to expand the treatment plant footprint and have the utilities handle the maintenance of what was left of the on-sites.  He wanted to take that approach because, according to him, “on-sites don’t work.”  He continued to discuss his belief that they dump tons of nitrogen in the bay every year, they pose health risks, and so on.       
I knew I had to be careful.  This man was an authority figure, and if I tried telling him he was wrong, it would be like a child correcting a parent and would only create tension; I opted for a different approach.
“You know I used to think the same thing,” I said to him, “until I found out what was really going on.”  That got the desired effect; his forehead wrinkled and he asked what I was talking about.
I explained to him that the information we have been getting has been purposely skewed to favor treatment facilities, because building plants and laying mains is a multibillion-dollar-a-year industry.  The truth is those treatment facilities are doing far more damage because they reduce, not eliminate, contaminates; additionally, there are equipment breakdowns and accidents that dump millions of gallons of raw sewage into our waterways every month.
Although on-sites are doing some damage, it is nowhere near what we have been told. Further, the on-sites that are causing pollution are the older systems that were never properly designed in the first place; but with newer designs and technology, the on-sites today will actually treat wastewater better than a multimillion dollar treatment facility at a fraction of the cost to homeowners and taxpayers.
Despite the argument that septic systems have a high failure rate, it is only because homeowners are not taught how to use and maintain them.  They overuse water, use harsh chemicals, and flush garbage down the drain, and never have the system pumped or inspected because they are unaware of the proper way to treat the system.
Unfortunately, because the septic industry is so fragmented, it is difficult to reach a consensus from state to state, even county to county, so getting any kind of an organized representation is next to impossible. The engineering firms, on the other hand, are “well-oiled machines.”  They have professional sales crews that come in wearing suits and give high-tech presentations that will sway anyone.  During these presentations, to convince city leaders, they point out how a treatment facility will encourage large-scale development, which means huge financial growth (from taxes)—plus they will generate revenue from those monthly treatment fees. 
It is, perhaps, the environmental impact that is most alarming.  From 1995 to 2005, the amount of damage to our shorelines has gone up more than 500%
As a septic contractor, it is important for you to remember that today, it’s not uncommon for community leaders to attend state and regional meetings to discuss problems facing their districts and the possible solutions to those problems.  At many of these meetings, the proposal includes treatment facilities. If most of the cities, township and villages in your area elected to go along with this program, your septic business could be out of business in five years.
Homeowners around the country that are opposed to their local sewer projects often contact me for advice; I always tell them the answer is simple: the city’s argument is frequently that they need a sewer system to protect the public’s health and the environment. I tell homeowners to be prepared, and have their septic systems brought up to state-approved standards.  I recommend that they call in their own engineers (septic contractors) so that they can let the city know that their systems are environmentally safe.   
But the feedback from these people isn’t encouraging.  Most say they get very little support from the contractors.  It is imperative to remember, as a septic contractor, that your opponents (the treatment plant and utilities) have plenty of supporters and you must be prepared to address the issues with regard to septic systems professionally and expediently.
You are the local expert when it comes to on-sites, and your knowledge can be a valuable weapon.  You already have a good idea of the type and approximate cost of systems in a given area…so share that knowledge.   
For many homeowners, a combination of regular, engineered, and cluster systems with ballpark costs per household will show them that they have options; but they won’t know this unless you tell them—the engineering firms won’t volunteer this information.  And, give them incentives by offering bulk pricing on designs, installs, and pumping/maintenance and help them to get organized.      
Jim vonMeier performs educational programs directed at homeowners, teaching them the health and environmental need for proper septic systems and how to find a certified septic professional to inspect/design/install/maintain their systems.  He has also represented homeowners in their fight against public sewer projects and speaks at contractor programs around the country on the subject of customer service. 

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