U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Produces Model Program

The EPA issued a model program for onsite management in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. This guidance document is expected to become the template the EPA uses for other impaired watersheds. “They have said in effect, that they will use this to apply TMDL for other impaired waters around the country,” says Eric Casey, executive director for the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association. “Think Gulf of Mexico, Florida Keys, Puget Sound—just about any wetland area and the perimeter of the country. There are also several freshwater lakes that may be targeted, such as the Great Lakes.”

The document states it was developed to help other states develop and implement a model program for managing onsite systems with the goal of minimizing nitrogen impact to the Chesapeake Bay. “This model program reflects…the latest research and recommendations on the reduction of nitrogen pollution using different onsite system technologies. Whether and to what extent a state or local government chooses to implement the recommendations contained in this document is a decision that is ultimately left up to the state or local government.”

“The EPA doesn’t have direct authority over onsite—it’s still regulated at the state level,” says Casey. “We all want to protect our waters and feel that this is a positive step and portions of this document are particularly good.”

Developing Better Technology

“A whole set of technologies will need to be introduced to get those nitrogen levels down,” says Casey. “Any major technology has to get approved in all 50 states, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars to get approved because each state requires different data. It is a very difficult process for a manufacturer to go through, which stifles innovation. It gives manufacturers less of an incentive to develop new technologies when they know how hard they will have to work to get through the process.

“For example, Maryland is requiring BAT (best available technology), which means that manufacturers have to get their products approved by Maryland’s data standards. So, even if they have the technology approved in Virginia, they still have to start from scratch and provide new and usually different data to Maryland. This happens across all states. So, the guidance document from the EPA talks about what we can do collectively to see how products are approved.

“There needs to be more trust between the states. Right now, one state requires two years worth of testing while another state will require more testing or different sets of tests. All segments of the industry would be better served if states would approve a standard. Everyone would benefit if technology had an easier path to industry. It would result in fewer costs, less expensive equipment, increased public health and would be better for the environment.

“Again, the EPA isn’t mandating anything and it isn’t binding. However, everything has to start somewhere, and we hope that this will open up dialogue between the states to make this easier.”

This will be a big topic of discussion at NOWRA’s conference in November where they will have a panel discussion on technology reciprocity. “Everyone, even the regulators, recognize that this would be good to do,” says Casey.

Community Impact

“This will impact every sector in the industry,” says Casey. “It’s a pretty sweeping document and sets the standards on what technologies are approved. In Maryland, the installers, service providers and inspectors will have to educate themselves on the new approved technologies. There are a number of new things to learn.

“More people are going to need to be educated in those states and training standards will need to be upgraded. Installers will have to know that they are following proper procedures; regulators will be interpreting rules in each county.”

“For the homeowners that live in sensitive watershed areas and need to upgrade to an advanced treatment system, they will need to figure out where they are going to get $20,000 or more to put it in.

“The big takeaway in this is that whether you are a pumper, installer, designer or engineer, it’s really important that you keep up with the latest technologies that are out there. There are fewer and fewer places where you find simple installations. Most of the space for those is already gone. The overall trend is toward more regulations and rigid standards for the performance of onsite systems. The knowledge of anyone from 10-15 years ago is now out-of-date. You have to stay up with what is going on. Water quality standards are getting tougher to meet, and you need to know more to employ those effectively. If you haven’t been to a class in 15-20 years, you will be shut out of business. The need to keep skills up is more important than ever.”

For more information on the EPA document, NOWRA’s conference, and how you can learn more, visit www.nowra.org.

For more information on the Chesapeake Bay Program, visit http://www.epa.gov/region3/chesapeake/

Story by Jennifer Taylor

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