After seven years of legislative work, the Georgia Onsite Wastewater Association has helped craft a bill to promote sustainable land application of septage.
After years and many hours of work by the Georgia Onsite Wastewater Association, land application of septage is now an affordable alternative in the Peach State. “GOWA had a big role,” says President Matt Vinson of Natural Systems Utilities. “Several of our members were key in getting that done. It was a big victory.”
Vinson took over the GOWA leadership role this year, succeeding John Ford. The new land application regulations, seven years in the making, place control of the permits in the hands of the state, rather than local officials, and will reduce costs for onsite professionals and the homeowners they serve.
Vinson and Dart Kendall, of Advanced Septic, discuss the work of the Georgia association:
Why were changes needed in the land application regulations?
Vinson: The sites were permitted under each county board of health governed by the local county commissioners. As soon as someone heard their neighbor wanted to land-apply septage, they would object and it would get shut down. There have been no new permits in years; the cost of disposal at wastewater treatment plants is high and many plants don’t accept it. Haulers and pumpers were having a hard time disposing of septage.
The permits are now issued by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. It took a lot of work by our GOWA committee:
- Dart Kendall, Advanced Septic
- Tommy Chambliss, Chambliss Construction
- Devin White, LHR Hulsey Farm
- Blake Jones, Jones Septic Tank
- Jeff Adams, J. L. Adams
- Harold Kilgore, Gravelator Systems
- Don Wolf, Dad’s Septic and Well
Dart, how did this cooperative effort come about?
Kendall: A law passed seven years ago gave EPD five years to come up with septage land application rules. The rules we got two years ago were so restrictive that nobody was going to apply [for permits]. There weren’t that many at the time, about 22 or 23, and everyone was going to turn in their permits because of the rules. We were going to have big areas of the state with no place to dispose of septage, and some people would have to drive 100 miles to a treatment plant.
We got a new bill passed to delay the rules for two years. EPD was told they had to sit down with us, the end users, and come up with more reasonable regulations. We worked together for two years and have guidelines we feel are reasonable and will encourage more land application.
There are now two sets of rules. Tier 1 is for small operators; septage I pump that I want to apply on my property. It is much more lenient. Tier 2 is for the larger operators. For both tiers, septage must be screened, and it must be injected or incorporated into the soil within so many hours, among other requirements.
Was EPD open to your ideas?
Kendall: They were great. This is the way regulations need to be done. EPD had more understanding after we sat down and talked. We were able to show them that the cost of disposal was getting so high that some homeowners were pumping their tanks into a nearby ditch. We have areas where disposing of 1,000 gallons of septage at a treatment plant is $350 to $400. The average cost of pumping a tank is already around $350. People can only afford so much to pump their tank before they quit doing it. The counties realize we need a place to put it but didn’t want to get blamed for land spreading. They just wanted to make sure it was regulated. Now we have something that is going to be really good for us.
Matt, what other types of issues has GOWA been working on?
Vinson: A lot of our effort has been around the Metropolitan North Georgia Planning District; 15 counties and more than 90 cities in the metro Atlanta region dealing with comprehensive planning for water supply, wastewater treatment and stormwater management.
The Technical Committee is mostly comprised of representatives of municipalities and water and sewer authorities. Many on the committee want to maximize the amount of water that gets returned to rivers and streams through the sewer plant discharge. They consider onsite wastewater as “consumptive use.” They don’t care that we put water into the ground and it gets back to the groundwater and surface water over time; they want to know how much goes back immediately.
A bill was introduced this past legislative session requiring local governments to return so much water to the source every month. If it was less than 25 percent in 2016, no new water service connections would be allowed. In 2019, that percentage was 50 percent, and then 75 percent in 2024. That would have nibbled away at our onsite business. The bill died in committee.
Have you been successful in changing attitudes?
Vinson: Not yet. It’s still an issue and is still going to come up. The district was formed in 2001 and we’re coming in at the tail-end fighting to keep what we have. GOWA is pretty small in terms of legislative power, 416 regular members and 57 sponsor members [mainly manufacturers and larger installers]. I believe other organizations would take our side if something like this made it through committee; the homebuilders association and the real estate association would be on our side.
Does that say something about the importance of joining groups like GOWA?
Vinson: There is power in numbers. So many onsite professionals don’t see how their money and membership is going to help. We are getting better at increasing membership, mainly through our continuing education classes.
What is GOWA’s role in training onsite professionals?
Vinson: Georgia requires eight hours of continuing education every two years. We worked hand-in-hand with the University of Georgia until their professor left in 2010 and the university stopped supporting it. The two-year continuing education cycle was just ending so we had to scramble to put together classes.
Our outgoing president, John Ford, did a really good job getting it back to full speed in time for the end of the 2014 training cycle. It really helped to have the support of Chris Kumnick, the onsite program director for the Georgia Department of Public Health. We trained 864 pumpers and installers this year. Our goal is to start offering online classes.
What do you see in the future for GOWA?
Vinson: Georgia is adding certification for portable restroom providers. So we’re looking to add them to our membership. EPD wants GOWA to help develop the certification test and provide the continuing education.
GOWA and onsite wastewater are going to be around for a long time; you can’t run a sewer pipe down every road in the state. I really believe the trend will be toward large cluster systems. You still need installers for cluster systems, and pumpers are going to get a lot more business from them than from individual system owners who only call when they have a problem. Most installers and pumpers aren’t familiar with cluster systems. People who are members of groups like GOWA and who go to events like the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport Show [formerly the Pumper & Cleaner Expo] are aware of cluster systems because they are informed about the future of onsite wastewater.