Wisconsin Onsite Water Recycling Association

One of the strengths of the Wisconsin Onsite Water Recycling Association (WOWRA) is its ability to “play well with others.” It is an organization that knows how to share, to collaborate and to elicit the best from its various partners. As a result, the 200-member WOWRA has a leadership role in the evolution of its industry around the state of Wisconsin and beyond.

Todd Stair is a master plumber and vice president of one of the state’s largest onsite system installers, HERR Environmental Inc., located in southeast Wisconsin. He is also the association’s board president, and according to him, there are three key benefits to becoming a member of WOWRA, the first of which, he says, “Is our very active legislative work. Pat Essie, our executive director and a lobbyist in Madison, is a legislative expert. He’s one of the best in the state, and if there’s any issue that comes up that affects our industry, we know about it immediately and can respond.”

WOWRA has the ability to work closely with the legislature, in part, because Essie’s office overlooks the capital building. “He’s so highly regarded that we can get into almost any office in the capital. We just don’t miss things. No bills are being snuck by us because his connections allow us to come in and get behind good bills or take action when a bill is proposed that will adversely affect our industry,” Stair says.

Another benefit to having a WOWRA membership is the association’s extensive involvement with the state on code changes and regulatory issues, of which, Essie is also a part of. Stair explains, “The regulatory system in our state looks at WOWRA as a partner in an advisory capacity. At least two members of the seven-member WOWRA board sit on the advisory council for Private Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (POWTS), and state regulators typically invite this council to debate and discuss any proposed changes in any plumbing codes.”

Continuing education, which is offered primarily at WOWRA’s annual conference, is the third benefit to joining. In fact, it is at the conference that WOWRA see the most member activity. For its annual conference, they have been partnering with the Wisconsin Liquid Waste Carriers Association (WLWCA), which brings in twice as many conference attendees. Emerging from a biennial conference, WOWRA and WLWCA recently began holding the networking, education and vendor event every year.

“This collaboration allows us to bring in bigger-named speakers,” Stair says, “including experts from around the U.S. and Canada. Two days of training and continuing education run on three concurrent tracks and cover a variety of business, onsite, pumping and regulatory subjects. So there’s a choice.” He went on to say, “We feel very strongly about attendees being able to apply what they’ve seen at the conference to their business.” Last year, for example, the keynote speaker discussed competitive advantage and what makes one company different from others in the same field. At the January 2012 conference, attendees will hear how social media can benefit their companies.

“We want the hands on stuff, too: the best way to set pump floats, for example. We’ve had training on everything from Department of Transportation staff speaking on the regulations and guidelines for trucks, to academics explaining phosphorus issues and how that impacts performance as well as the design of systems,” Stair says. Each day of the conference ends with panel discussions on different issues, such as concrete tank deterioration, electrical issues for onsite systems or trouble-shooting tips. “We want our members to leave our conference feeling that they’re taking real benefits home, things that will help them make their companies better,” he says.

The conference also plays host to more than 70 vendors, providing important connections for both WOWRA and WLWCA members and the companies that attend. But that isn’t the only place vendors show up. Stair notes that WOWRA has been getting vendors more involved in the organization, chairing or sitting on committees, because they bring a level of expertise that members can really learn from. In fact, the vice president of the association and three members of the board are vendors.

“We also have county and state regulators among our members. They’ve proven to be energetic and sincere, and they all bring a whole different perspective to it. Their knowledge of budgets and operations means they can fill us in on points that we’d otherwise waste our time considering. This is a paradigm shift that has really benefited us,” Stair says.

A WOWRA subcommittee has just completed a six-year project to develop a POWTS Evaluator Certification Program to standardize, regulate and provide training for the evaluation of onsite systems during the home sale process. Wisconsin has no regulation or certification and no consistency to the procedure. Stair explains, “Anyone could go out and do an evaluation using any method. We saw so many systems that have been replaced prematurely because of just such bad evaluation practices.”

Seeing the need, WOWRA approached the state with the request that the home evaluation process should be standardized and regulated. The state agreed, putting the work back into WOWRA’s lap and promising to review it when complete. Now that it’s finished, however, partnership with the state could take awhile. “Currently there is a new state administration in place, and many changes to the regulatory agencies are being proposed,” Stair explains.

WOWRA’s training curriculum and certification process calls for two days of in-class and in-field components followed by a comprehensive half-day test that must be passed to receive certification. The procedure provides the homeowner with a complete and uniform report, and the lender, broker or homeowner’s liability is reduced.

“Our process sends the evaluator in with a thorough checklist. Every other page is an education piece for the homeowner, as well,” Stair says, “Although, we’ve been carrying out the training and certification process for about two years, we’re still trying to get recognition from the state, lenders and real estate brokers.”

WOWRA also awards two or three scholarships every year to members or members’ immediate family who are going on to college or furthering their education in any field. Each year, the members all chip in, and then a professional third party chooses recipients from among the applications. Depending on how much is donated each year, recipients usually receive $1500 to $3000. Over the years, the association has awarded over $100,000. “We have a very active, dedicated membership,” says Stair, “It’s exciting to be part of an organization with so much energy, enthusiasm and intelligence.”

To learn more about WOWRA visit www.wowra.com or call 800-377-6672.

Story by Anne Biggs

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