Moving an Industry Forward

There’s a big push for training in California right now and the California Onsite Wastewater Association (COWA) is at the center. Not only is the association tasked with training its approximately 200 members, but also employees at government agencies.

“We have a three-year, three-phase contract with the state water board training academy,” says Kit Rosefield, COWA education coordinator. “We’ll focus on management and technology the first year, followed by a series of nine workshops on developing agency programs in the second. The last year will culminate in a series of train the trainer programs for local agencies and practitioners so that they can deliver the message to consumers.”

COWA is the accredited onsite training agency in California for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 9, the California Department of Public Health, the California Department of Transportation, the Consortium of Institutes for Decentralized Wastewater Treatment, and the National Association of Wastewater Technicians. They are also negotiating with Indian Health Services to provide training.

“We will work with the agencies and our members to put forth policies that will sustain and grow the industry,” says Rosefield. “We want to institute best management practices across the state to raise the level of professionalism and standards within the industry.”

According to Rosefield, the partnerships with the various agencies have evolved within the last three years. Those agencies have sought COWA out to provide one-on-one training to their employees, which with membership serves as COWA’s source of funding.

Currently, COWA is restructuring their education and training program to help meet the needs of the new state policy. “We are working on developing a fixed Training for Certification schedule with a low-cost continuing education program,” says Rosefield. “Our plans are to include a hands-on component in all of our face-to-face programs, online and manufacturer collaborations to lower the cost of the continuing education requirements. COWA offers two California-specific design programs based on Consortium materials as well as NAWT-certified vacuum truck operator, inspector and operation and maintenance programs, as well as the NEHA-certified installer program.

“The biggest complaint that we’ve received is about professionals having to take two to three days off for travel to gain 8-hours for recertification/continuing education. So, we are working on moving some of those classes to a web format, which will give everyone more flexibility.”

To accomplish all of this, COWA relies on 12 qualified trainers. “They are all industry practitioners that are sharing their expertise with others,” says Rosefield. “We’ve chosen to recruit the cream of the crop. People who do the work have a bigger impact. Each trainer does the type of work they teach. We try to bring forth two new programs per year. Our trainers typically work in teams of two except for our one-day programs. Most of our programs are based on the Consortium’s materials that our training team adapts to California needs. We have four NAWT trainers and five who have been through the Consortium Train the Trainer process. All of the trainers have been through some training so that they are all delivering a common message. The most important thing in the industry is to make sure that everyone is using the same terminology and appropriate application of technologies.”

COWA is also working on a project with NAWT to develop a bilingual Vacuum Truck Operator program. “We have bilingual instructors and are teaming up to deliver programs across the border,” says Rosefield. “We have a lot of practitioners that do a great job and speak English well, but haven’t had the formal education to read and write it. For them, we have historically given the tests orally. So, we are working with NAWT to develop a bilingual exam.”

With all of their work with the agencies, COWA is retooling their annual conference to hold an onsite water reuse workshop and technology fair sometime in mid January next year. “It will be a scaled-down version of our regular conference,” says Rosefield. “We’d like to introduce other business opportunities for onsite professionals.”


COWA is currently made up of pumpers, installers, designers, regulators, manufacturers, and suppliers. “One of our goals is to grow our installation and service sector membership,” says Rosefield. “The economy took a bite out of our membership, but we are building it back up.”

This is a turning point for California’s onsite community. COWA is working with California’s public and private sectors to move the industry forward and members will get a say in that message.

“There is a merging of the centralized and decentralized sectors,” says Rosefield. “Septic is getting larger, and there is a lot more interest in the decentralized sector. I believe that if we don’t step up to the level of professionalism that exists on the sewer side, then will see more pressure to go with a public model. I think if we continue to use current practices, then we will see our industry diminish. On the other hand, I believe if we are able to step up, then we have the opportunity to really expand our industry and create new jobs.

“We need policy to require practitioners to be licensed to bring formality to the process. California’s new State Policy has a five-tier program for septic systems. Those that are working well and are maintained are exempt and fall into tier zero, everything else falls under state or local agency control. We need a successful program that moves us towards best management practices so that our industry will thrive and not shrink. We are creating a blog on our website to engage members and get their input on the state contract so that message is consistent. We will also use it to keep them informed of changes.”

Not only does membership bring you a voice in the policy process, but also a variety of other benefits. “Members find benefits from the Alturess Septic Insurance program, and qualify for banner ads on our website with their membership.”

Members also get weekly announcements on training programs and messages from the president.
With California’s onsite industry at a critical juncture, COWA members have a huge role to play in the debate of onsite vs. sewer.

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Story by Jennifer Taylor

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