Professional Onsite Wastewater Reuse Association of New Mexico stands up for education

The name is long, even the acronym is long, and both reflect the long reach that POWRANM, the Professional Onsite Wastewater Reuse Association of New Mexico, has across the wastewater industry in our forty-seventh state.

That’s saying a lot for an organization that is just eight years old, has one paid part-time staffer, and has only forty members, not counting the ten or so manufacturers and supply houses that are affiliate members.

One cause of POWRANM’s substantial impact resides in the industry involvement of its CEO, Eugene Basset, and President, Ralph Baker Dotson. Specifically, both are committed to industry-wide education—which, according to Baker Dotson, the state sorely lacks—and to working on behalf of legislation that makes the industry in New Mexico more effective, forward-thinking, and safer.

And piggy-backing on that is another reason for the association’s strengths and value: Basset and Baker Dotson are passionate about sharing their knowledge with members and nonmembers alike.

“It’s important for our industry to become more professional and better educated,” explains Baker Dotson, who owns and operates AAA Allied Septic (www.AAAAlliedSeptic.com), a company his father, Carl Baker, founded over fifty-eight years ago. Allied Septic installs conventional septic, alternative treatment, and wastewater re-use systems. But more significant for POWRANM, Baker Dotson, like Basset, is an expert on New Mexico wastewater regulations.

In New Mexico, wastewater regulations are proposed and written and then argued before the Environmental Improvement Board, which recommends approval by the New Mexico Environmental Department (NMED). Basset, who wrote the major 2005 revisions, currently chairs a seven-member task force that is drafting a mandatory education curriculum to present to the NMED Secretary before the end of the year.

The prestigious task force Basset heads includes members of NMED, the wastewater industry, and the real estate industry, along with Professor Adrian Hanson, acting head of New Mexico State University’s civil engineering department.

“They’ve come together from all over the state every couple weeks to make this happen,” says Baker Dotson, who deeply appreciates the volunteer task force members’ commitments to the effort. “We’re going to get an education program that’s mandatory and that’s going to move the industry forward. This is the most optimistic I’ve been in four years.”

Meanwhile, POWARNM does what it can to fill the education gap by offering certification courses and answering questions. That last part sounds easy, until you realize how Basset and Baker Dotson go about answering those questions: a lot of hands-on interaction and virtually all of it at no charge to members or nonmembers of the association.

“Members and nonmembers call asking how to do tasks. Inspectors ask for interpretation of the regulations. We meet with people in the NMED and with competitors in the industry. Gene Basset and I provide support, sometimes onsite, sometimes [by] phone consult, to help out people in the industry. My interest is that we will help our competitors to make our industry a better industry.”

He cites a common situation of a twenty-year veteran of the business “always doing it that way” when “that way” is perhaps illegal or risky. When Baker Dotson corrects the individual’s technique, he backs it up with an explanation of the regulation and with industry standards.

“We point them in another direction. Even though someone has been in the business for twenty years, it doesn’t mean they’re doing it the best way. We pick up new tools and tips all the time. Twenty-nine years in business myself, and I’ve learned more in the last eight than in the previous eleven. We can always learn.

“In fact, the minute we or anyone in our industry thinks we can’t be trained, we become dangerous.”

Among other programs and trainings, POWRANM sponsors NAWT certification courses presented by NAWT instructors.

“Then, for the one-day recertification,” says Baker Dotson, “we offer an additional day of training on regulations or the biology of wastewater to strengthen participants’ knowledge beyond the basics.”

The association has a mailing list of more than 300 contractors to whom it offers its courses and provides a newsletter that details activities within the industry, regulations, and other happenings state-wide.

“Right now, we’re trying to move forward a bill that would offer state tax credits for wastewater reuse or for advanced treatment systems that protect the ground water and slow the amount of water pulled from the aquifers. We feel it would benefit the industry by creating jobs and the consumer by offering financial incentives and alternatives.”

He is less than optimistic about the bill’s chances, however. “It’s been presented before and went all the way to the governor’s desk, where it was vetoed fifteen minutes before the close of the legislative session.”

Against setbacks like that, Baker Dotson and Bassett measure their other successes, such as the mandatory education program that is expected to be in place soon. Basset, who is on the NAWT Board, will serve on the NOWRA Board again. And, according to Baker Dotson, “Gene keeps us in communication with the rest of the world” through his involvement with numerous conferences and bringing back information and trends that are then shared in the newsletter.

The association also has initiatives such as donating a “Christmas septic system” to a family in need each holiday season and soliciting donations for the $1000 William Hapchuk Memorial Scholarships that are awarded by NAWT in February to full-time college students (visit www.NAWT.org for more information).

“We’d like to have more members, more staff, more money,” says Baker Dotson, “because all those things would help us to better our industry. So we have to work with what we have. And given the economy, what we have is our own free time, and we use that to give back to the industry. Gene and I have cancelled jobs to be available for mediation [for example].

“We will leave a better industry behind, and I think that’s our payoff.”

To learn more, visit www.POWRANM.org
Or contact
Bill McKinstry, Executive Vice President
Professional Onsite Wastewater Reuse Association of New Mexico
billmckinstry@msn.com 
505.989.7676
800.638.8569
P.O. Box 8542, Santa Fe, NM 87504

Story by Anne Biggs

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