Wastewater trade association takes off in Arkansas to represent pumpers and installers on new regulations.
The Arkansas Onsite Wastewater Association has only been around since April 2010. While it could use more resources to recruit members, it takes members to get those resources. It would help if they had more power in the legislature, but that requires numbers, as well.
ARKOWA was formed by Don Daley (president) and his wife Peggy (secretary/treasurer). We talked to Don about the group’s founding and its future:
What prompted you to start the organization?
Daley: My wife and I are both system designers and we were working with the owners of some highly valuable lake property. We found out we had to go through a lot of hassles. They got turned down for a septic system and we couldn’t find any way to get a system approved. We ran into regulations we’d never heard of and nobody could tell us how they became law. We talked to our state representative, who is now a state senator, about how we get into the loop when regulations are being made. He told us if we wanted a say, we needed a professional association and he would help us get started and get us a seat at the table.
There were a few people interested and nobody had the time, so we spent about two years and our own money incorporating ARKOWA and have been trying to get the membership up ever since.
How many members do you have?
Daley: We have about 60 members out of about 900 people licensed to do septic work. Who knows how many of them are really active? We’re still in our infancy, but we do have enough people that the legislature will talk to us. It’s better than it used to be.
If somebody wants something and there’s nobody there to oppose, it goes right through a committee and to the legislature and nobody has questioned it. If you have an association, you can go into committee meetings and sign up for or against a bill. There were a lot of those types of special interest things that got through. The legislature now knows there is somebody who is interested and it gives them a cause to ask a few more questions.
But it is a numbers game, and that’s what we tell potential members. The more members, the more influence you have. Most of the legislators can’t relate to onsite wastewater because most of them are on city sewer. It’s completely foreign to them.
What types of things are you working on?
Daley: There are officials in the Arkansas Department of Health who would like to see the association get up and going and take over some of the education functions. They don’t have the money to do that. We hope to offer some educational opportunities to help people in the business keep up their accreditations. We’re working with the Health Department to get people soils qualified. There’s only one school in Arkansas where you get soil qualified and it’s a two-year course.
We’re trying to work with homeowners who don’t have money to fix their systems when they do fail. So we’re looking for sources of grants and low-interest loans and get that set up. It would be a benefit to everyone if we could clean up those systems.
I’ve been keeping up with the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s] work on nonprofit sewer companies. Arkansas passed a law four or five years ago to allow them [EPA in 2004 established the National Onsite Wastewater Demonstration Project grant program to build and operate cluster systems to serve groups of homes located outside municipal sewer systems]. I’ve been pursuing how we can set them up out in the rural areas. We have a lot of lakes and poor soils, so we’re studying the types of systems we can put in around the state to help counties and developers install small community cluster systems so areas can be developed.
The more we try to do, the more money we need. We want to be a benefit to everybody and get what is best for the people of the state.
What do you have to say to the onsite professionals in Arkansas reading this right now?
Daley: If you’ve ever complained about a new regulation or not knowing about [a new rule] until two or three months after it passed, then you need to join the association so you will have a chance to have input when it is being discussed. Without that, you only get to complain about it. So join us and complain upfront when it matters!
Our website was built by my wife and I. We’d like to have a newsletter. We’re just looking for anybody who is willing to contribute in any way. We can always find a spot for them to do something.
There are other states without industry groups like ARKOWA. What suggestions would you have for installers interested in starting a trade group?
Daley: Get started. It’s not that difficult if you can get some people to help you send out flyers and get information out. We spent two weekends calling people right before the legislature went into session. I sent out emails every week about what was happening during the legislative session to keep people informed. That’s when people are interested because that’s when the laws are going to change and people want input.
Many states have active, successful organizations. Do you have a message for them?
Daley: Anybody who has any information about programs they’ve used to get things going, we’d like to hear it. Some have suggested we get together with the national organizations. That’s an option as soon as we get the money put together. Everything ties back to money and membership. We would like to, but we don’t even have enough money to send people to meetings and conventions to bring back information to help us; we have to do it all on our own dime. We’d love to be able to go to those things because that’s where we’re going to learn.
In 10 years, what will the Arkansas Onsite Wastewater Association look like?
Daley: [Laughing] It looks like I’m gone! Hopefully somebody has taken over for me.
We’ve taken over most of the education work from the health department. We have people on the board looking at regulations and what has to be done to improve onsite wastewater in Arkansas.
We’re working with the Health Department in a team effort. We started by focusing on our onsite people and educating them. At some point, we brought the health department on board and we’re working together on the best things we can do to keep the water quality of the state safe and secure, and also allow the people of the state to enjoy their property and have the things they want for themselves and their families. It’s a trade-off. You have to have regulations that make it good for everybody.
I’m hoping we get to a point where the regulations are thoughtful to the water resources and the homeowners and residents of the state.