FOWA—More Than Just An Education Provider

As a provider of continuing education classes to the state’s 650+ septic tank contractors and 800+ certified environmental health professionals (CEHPs), the Florida Onsite Wastewater Association (FOWA) is a familiar name to those in the onsite wastewater industry in Florida. However, those who are not members of the association may not be aware of FOWA’s active involvement in the legislative process and policies that impact their industry. Currently the association is targeting three primary issues facing onsite professionals including the septic tank maintenance program, land application and illegal septic contracting.

Legislative Impact

“Maintenance is a huge issue right now,” says FOWA Executive Director Roxanne Groover. “There are many homeowners in the state that only pump out their septic tanks when they can’t flush their toilets. We are working to educate the public regarding the maintenance issue to get them on a schedule to pump every three to five years. This will save them from costly repairs that they will face without regular system maintenance.”

Instead of a statewide mandatory maintenance program, the new legislation calls for septic tank inspections in areas where Florida’s 33 first magnitude springs are located. Although these areas have the ability to opt out of the maintenance program, Groover says, “We hope many of the counties will choose to remain in. We plan to work with the homeowners groups in these areas to educate them about the benefits of regular maintenance and what to expect during a septic tank inspection.”

The repeal of all land application of septage by 2016 is another industry hot topic in Florida. Groover says, “Land application is being shut down without enough scientific background. The challenge for our state is that we don’t really have many alternatives. Septage can be taken to a wastewater treatment facility, but many of these facilities do not want to accept it, and they will just end up land applying it too. Composting facilities are another option, but there are very few available throughout the state. The only other option is taking the septage to a landfill.”

Opposition to land application has been expressed by groups who are concerned about the nitrogen and fecals on the land. “They don’t think it’s environmentally friendly,” says Groover. “But when you treat it properly, it’s environmentally safe, and benefits farm land. Opposition also comes from people who buy homes located near a land application site. Some days there is an odor—just like a wastewater treatment plant. This is not an easy issue to resolve no matter what process is used. Land application remains an important issue that we will address again this coming year. There are certain areas in the state where it is necessary.”

Illegal contracting has also become a major concern for onsite professionals in Florida. It costs money to do business lawfully and those costs are passed on to the consumer. People that are circumventing the laws and regulations can afford to underbid legitimate septic contracting businesses—sometimes significantly—on projects. The consumer often ends up with shoddy work which damages public opinion and the environment. “There are some guys that will just buy a truck and dump in an orange grove,” says Groover.

FOWA’s goal is to present the state authorities with evidence of illegal work being done so that violators can be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. “It is essential to protect homeowners and licensed septic tank contractors who have the proper training and will perform the work in a manner safe to the environment,” she adds.

Education

Septic tank contractors in Florida are required to take 12 hours—18 hours for masters–of training each year and CEHPs must take 24 hours every two years. FOWA offers continuing education classes at their training facility in Lake Alfred and at various locations around the state as well as online. Students are not required to be a member of the association to attend. A course schedule is available on their website.

“One of the goals in our mission statement is to protect public health and the environment,” says Groover. “Providing education to our members and those that do contract work helps us meet that objective. We also support our members with answers to questions and materials that they can use to help educate homeowners. For example, we recently had a pumper in a first magnitude spring area who needed materials to help educate his customers. We provided him with a power point presentation and a ‘magic box’ pamphlet that he can use to explain to homeowners how their septic systems work.” Members can also get industry information and updates through FOWA’s publication, The Voice.

Educating the public is an important part of the process. By providing tools to educate homeowners about their septic systems and helping members answer questions from their customers, FOWA is taking an important step in raising public awareness and their opinion of the onsite industry. “We treat more than 30 percent of the wastewater in Florida,” says Groover. “That means we play an important part in protecting its waters.”

Involvement

By its members serving on various committees, FOWA is able to provide input to the state and help draft legislation. “We have representatives on the Technical Review and Advisory Panel (TRAP) as well as the Research Review and Advisory Committee (RRAC),” says Groover. These groups review new technology to determine if it could be approved and used as a tool in the onsite industry.

“It is important to keep a close eye on how products are approved, as well as what new products come into the state,” says Groover. “By keeping abreast of the latest products, it can be determined if there are any statewide issues or just single contractor issues with a particular product that has been introduced.”
FOWA also helped secure funding for RRAC’s Passive Nitrogen study. The association has representatives serving on the Variance committee as well. When issues arise outside of the normal guidelines, the Variance committee advises the state whether or not to allow the homeowner and contractor to move forward with a project.

FOWA’s initiatives on behalf of the onsite industry are substantive. Their involvement has also expanded to the national level. They have recently rejoined NOWRA to support its efforts to secure federal funding for onsite programs throughout the US, including Florida. If you are interested in additional information or wish to join FOWA’s more than 400 members, please visit their website at www.fowaonsite.com.

Story by Jennifer Taylor

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