MOWRA Advocates for Industry

The Michigan Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association (MOWRA) is focused on their role in the stakeholder process of rewriting the Michigan guidelines for commercial and cluster wastewater treatment systems. “MOWRA has been very involved in this process which began a few years back,” says Larry Stephens, P.E., president of MOWRA. “The final draft is almost complete and then the process of modifying appropriate legislation will begin.”

This whole process has been achieved with input by a small group of MOWRA officers and interested members who have volunteered their time to represent the industry at the state level.

What is interesting to know about Michigan is that it has a myriad of associations targeted to the same industry. There is the Michigan Septic Tank Association whose membership consists of pumpers and contractors. The Michigan Environmental Health Association focuses on regulators, while the Michigan Water Environment Association caters to bigger plant operators and municipalities.

Although MOWRA competes with these different associations for members, what sets it apart is that it brings all of these different constituents of the wastewater industry together. “We have designers, contractors, local health department regulators, supply companies and educators as members,” says Stephens.

What is also unique about Michigan is that all of these different associations come together to host an annual conference at Michigan State University’s Kellogg Center in East Lansing. The 62nd annual conference will be the biggest educational event of the year on January 8-10, 2013.

In Michigan, only septic tank pumping companies are required to have continuing education credits, which are available at the conference as well as to anyone else who wants or needs them. “We offer highly technical training for the pumping industry,” says Stephens. “We will also have general seminars and shorter presentations on a broad range of topics that also pertain to regulators, designers, and installers.”

MOWRA sends out a flyer and registration information to its members. You can also register through their website.

During the conference, MOWRA conducts its annual meeting to plan the association’s goals for the year. One of the issues that they may take up this year has to do with training. Currently, there isn’t any legislation requiring certifications for designers or installers. “We have 86 counties and perhaps 50 different codes across the state,” says Stephens. “Some counties do a more active job of requiring training and a listing of approved installers, but that is pretty limited and not a general case. Every county is different.”

Contractors working in more than one county may be faced with going through a number of training events and taking a small exam in a number of different counties each year or every three years depending on the requirements. Typically the exam and training is focused on knowing that particular county’s codes. “It’s not necessarily training that is based on applying the best science and engineering to designs,” says Stephens. “Proper design and installation of systems based on good science and engineering rather than teaching codes is a big need for our industry.”

“Since about 2000, there have been bills introduced almost every year in the state legislator to address this,” says Stephens. “There is typically a lot of activity and interest for a little while, but it tends to die on the vine when legislators grasp how large of task this is. It just becomes overwhelming to the decision-makers. Funding is always a key factor. Funding the administration of such a program has been a sensitive issue. And, since the economy has been struggling for the last 10 years, new fees and taxes are not a popular topic.”

MOWRA has a link to the state legislature through a member of the industry. “One of the owners of a septic tank pumping company was elected a couple of years ago as a state representative,” says Stephens. “So, our industry has a personal connection to a representative with knowledge of the industry. But, we also monitor proposed legislation, which we comment on when the opportunity presents and testify before legislators when we can.”

The leaders of MOWRA who participate in the stakeholder process are volunteers who have businesses in the industry. “We do not have a paid lobbyist, but we try to do what we can for the industry and our members. We try to make our voice heard as an association and distribute that information to our membership.”

That voice in state affairs is an excellent reason to join MOWRA. “The opportunity to be involved in stakeholder issues on the state and national level—to have an overall voice for the industry—is one of biggest benefits that come with membership,” says Stephens. “Of course there are other tangibles too, such as discounts on products, etc, but those kinds of things have a lesser value than actually understanding the big picture of what the industry is trying to accomplish and the proper ways to get there.”

“I also think the other big benefit is the information exchange on the state of the industry,” says Stephens. “Staying informed on what is happening in the state and nation so you can better understand what you are doing and how that fits into the bigger picture. The networking and finding out what others are doing and what has made them successful and what doesn’t work cannot be overlooked either.”

For more information on MOWRA, visit www.mowra.org.

Story by Jennifer Taylor

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