Nova Scotia’s environmental department jump-started the provincial wastewater trade association and continues to help fund its mission to raise professional industry standards.
Nearly 20 years ago, the provincial agency Nova Scotia Environment decided it needed help from the private sector to properly regulate the onsite wastewater industry. The result was the Waste Water Nova Scotia Society. Today, the group has around 700 members and a memorandum of understanding that guides the cooperation between the association and NSE.
“Everybody’s fighting the same battles, they’re just at a different stage of the war,” says WWNS Executive Director Gary Cameron about the onsite wastewater industry in Nova Scotia compared to the rest of Canada and the United States.
You have a large membership, especially considering you’re in Canada’s second-smallest province.
Cameron: A lot of that is a direct result of us providing the continuing education required by the province. There is a professional development program for each designation and they come to us to get that: (system designers), installers, pumpers, portable restroom operators, cleaners, (onsite maintenance providers), and suppliers. That’s a good incentive. Engineers have their own professional development, but are also members of WWNS.
We started in 1997 because the government was looking to privatize the selection and design of systems. NSE used to do the permitting and inspection and wanted to get rid of that portion of their inspectors’ work so they could concentrate on some other things. They approached people in the industry and helped form Waste Water Nova Scotia.
The province also wanted an association that could provide feedback and recommendations about changes. They were pretty good from the start. They wanted this to happen, so they provided some money and expertise to make it happen. We get up to 50 percent of the licensing fees to help fund the continuing education for people in the onsite wastewater industry. Daily operations are funded by our $100 annual dues.
What is the continuing education requirement?
Cameron: It goes on a point system to remain qualified for the various licenses, so you don’t have to take the training over and do the exam again. You get points for being a member of the association and there are points associated with our annual general meeting every spring. We have a series of regional meetings around the province to keep people up to date and you get points for attending. Suppliers and engineers attend the meetings but do not collect points.
We have between 14 and 19 meetings every year and get between 600 and 700 every year in groups of 25 to 50 at each meeting. The last few years, we’ve cut down the meeting to just the morning, from about 9 to noon, so it doesn’t cut into people’s day too badly. No sense making people sit there. We get in, give them the meat and potatoes, and send them on their way.
Last year, we had a septic pumping expo and trade show that added a day to our annual general meeting. That was for the pumpers and portable restroom operators and we had a good turnout and feedback. We’re hoping to build on it this year and make it grow.
We also have a series of six educational videos on our website (see them at http://wwns.ca) and keep adding one or two a year. They show different types of systems being installed and some of the processes of getting approvals.
We work closely with the onsite services coordinator with Nova Scotia Environment, who travels around to our regional meetings. It’s a great time to get people up to speed if there are new regulations or anything people have to be made aware of. If NSE is proposing any changes, we see a good percentage of our members at those regional meetings and get their feedback before anything goes ahead.
What do you have for staff to get all this done?
Cameron: The total paid staff of WWNS is one, and that’s me. We have a volunteer board of directors of nine people. WWNS organizes the continuing education and the training and has an instructor who puts on the training courses. We provide them when we have enough students that have to take the licensing exam.
We normally have three installer courses a year and one for qualified persons (designers). For pumpers, we have a home-study model using material from the Pennsylvania Septage Management Association (PSMA), National Association of Wastewater Technicians (NAWT) and Portable Sanitation Association International (PSAI), as well as material we have developed. They go to the local office of NSE to write the exam.
The videos are done through my office collaborating with the board members to make sure things are on track, and we hire a production company to put them together.
What are the current onsite issues in Nova Scotia?
Cameron: Like most governments, money is tight so there are a lot of changes coming. The system approval process requires a lot of up-front work for the province’s inspectors, so we’re changing to a notification process that puts more of the onus on the industry and takes away some deskwork for the inspectors to allow them to get out and do more of their inspection work. It will be the big topic this year.
There’s more dependence and more responsibility on the industry all the time. We have a good relationship and the province trusts what we’re doing, so it makes it easier for them to move in that direction.
Are there other challenges ahead?
Cameron: I hope not, but it’s hard to say. Things are always in a state of change. Having everyone as a part of our association and having people working together is a real benefit.
Having read articles about other jurisdictions in this column, the key is to get that good working relationship with your regulator and having consistent rules across your province or state. That way there aren’t individual rules here and there, and everyone is working from the same book.