Washington On-Site Sewage Association Works to Keep Things Fresh

In 1990, the legal right of local health jurisdictions to certify licensed engineering designers in the state of Washington was challenged in court. The Washington On-Site Sewage Association (WOSSA) was formed as a result in order to provide a united defense against a lawsuit that impacted non-engineering designers as affected third parties. WOSSA was able to make a reasonable defense and participate in the process, which has allowed non-engineers to continue to practice.

“This effort helped lead to the statewide designer licensing program that is currently in place and administered by the Department of Licensing,” WOSSA Executive Director John Thomas explains. Since its beginning, the association has grown to encompass all disciplines within the industry, from designers to regulators to pumpers and installers. In the late nineties, the state Pumpers organization merged with WOSSA, adding their voice to an association that is more than 400 members strong.

Around 2001, WOSSA’s membership was approximately 175 members and peaked at more than 500 before the current recession. “We have been growing back steadily to over 435 members and member companies today and have strong leadership support on the WOSSA Board of Directors,” Thomas says.

Benefits of Membership

Benefits of becoming a WOSSA member include:
• Discounts on continuing education
• Access to members-only special classes
• Web presence through advertising on their website
• Members’ children can apply to their scholarship program
• Member advocacy with legislative issues and successful legislation sponsorship
• Industry representation from WOSSA on State Regulatory advisory groups
• Certification testing of industry professionals for multiple local health agencies

Members have a variety of experience ranging from new entry into the industry to more than 45 years. Today, many new construction-based companies are entering the on-site industry. Once they make the jump, Thomas says, “Helping them to understand the basics of OSS operation and system components along with understanding the rules and regulations are an important part of what WOSSA does. There are often big differences between how the state rules are applied at the local health jurisdictions. This can have a huge impact to their business and their bidding.” WOSSA class offerings include business related topics like “Contracts and Liens” taught by legal counsel with experience in this area of business.

The push for members to stay current on legislation and in their industry is not only due to the lawsuit that caused the association’s inception, but also because there is a 20-25 percent annual turnover rate, depending on the industry segment. The way for members to stay current is through the association’s annual training season.

Staying Current

WOSSA’s training season runs late September through May with a few sessions during the summer. Thirty-five different training courses are offered regionally throughout the year and take place at their training center on Washington State University’s campus. Occasionally, WOSSA will import trainers and national speakers who are pretty well known, but otherwise, instructors are field guys working in the state of Washington who have become experts in their industry. “What our guys really need to understand the most is about wastewater treatment and how wastewater management works—how does that apply in Washington and to Washington state rule and local health jurisdiction rule,” Thomas explains.

The association exports some of their training sessions to help save on travel time and costs to attendees. “It’s easier for me to drive to a distant part of the state, than it is to get 20 or 30 guys to drive 250 miles round trip,” he says.

One of the key strengths Thomas sees in each of the classes is that they have a real mix of people. There will be someone with 8-10 years of experience and then someone with less than a year. “What that allows for is great interaction in our classes so it’s a real shared experience,” Thomas says.

Standardizing the Testing

WOSSA provides a service to the local regulatory community as well. Throughout the last 10 years, WOSSA has been providing and growing certification testing services for the Installation and Operations, Maintenance and Pumpers. Presently, they do this for 12 Local Health Jurisdictions in the state. The advantages to this have been to standardize the testing and provide multiple jurisdiction reciprocity. Currently, WOSSA is looking to start a project with the State Health Directors group in Washington to standardize this testing protocol to a state wide level.

Annual Conference

Alongside the start of the training season, the other big event Thomas is looking forward to is WOSSA’s annual conference, which will take place January 24-25, 2014 in Yakima. “We’re looking forward to our annual scholarship auction,” Thomas says. Last year, WOSSA raised $32,000 in less than an hour. Thomas says they’re excited about where the association is at after 7 years of the scholarship program, which has given away almost $100,000. WOSSA has also set aside a restricted account and seeded their long-term funding goals for the scholarship program with $100,000 in the bank. When asked why it was set up that way, Thomas says, “This set-aside fund is exclusively used for the program and as such, will ensure the future viability and the success of our scholarship funding for years to come.”

At the auction, industry players provide a variety of things. A lot of the manufacturers have donated system technologies and equipment to auction off, and industry guys will auction off their services like a pump-out or inspection. Thomas says there are a lot of fun things incorporated into the auction as well. One member company consists of some big hunters, and they donated goose hunts, coyote hunts and fishing trips.

While the association sponsors and funds the auction, they also put up a few items in order to help the cause. “We’ve purchased WWII aircraft sightseeing flights and sponsored skydiving and last year had several compound bows to donate. We work hard to have a lot of variety to keep it energized and exciting,” Thomas adds. The annual scholarship is awarded to a current member or a dependent, less than 25 years of age and applying for an undergraduate degree.

“The purpose of an association is to represent its members and to work to raise the standard of professionalism in the industry that it serves,” Thomas says. “Finding new ways to help and support our member companies to do what they do better is how we work to keep it fresh.”

For more information visit www.wossa.org.

Story by Megan McClure

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