Indiana Onsite Wastewater Professionals Association Executive Director Discusses Influence, Activity

Pumper & Cleaner Expo host state’s wastewater association grows as it promotes protection of public health.
Indiana Onsite Wastewater Professionals Association Executive Director Discusses Influence, Activity
Donna Sheets is executive director of the Indiana Onsite Wastewater Professionals Association. Reach her at 317/889-2382 or

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Despite legal restrictions that prevent it from lobbying, the Indiana Onsite Wastewater Professionals Association has plenty of influence on the success of the industry in the Hoosier state. With a good membership mixture ranging from installers and local health officials to state regulators, the association fosters partnerships aimed at protecting the water resources of the state.

As the host state association for the Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo International Feb. 24-27, the IOWPA will have booth number 1062 on the exhibit floor in Indianapolis.

Under the direction of Executive Director Donna Sheets and President Jerry Maule, the group has 481 members: 302 contractors, 122 health department representatives and 57 vendors. The pair discuss association activities:

What is the main focus of the Indiana Onsite Wastewater Professionals Association?

Sheets: Our mission statement is, ‘IOWPA is committed to protecting the public health and the environment of Indiana by improving and increasing access to wastewater treatment for individuals and communities living beyond centralized wastewater treatment facilities.’

We only had about 100 members when I came on board in 2007. I credit the growth entirely to the certification program. That is really our driving force, along with the relationships we have with our health departments.

We began offering the Installer Certification course in 2005 and added the continuing education component in January 2009. We now have 295 certified installers, only a handful of our installer members are not certified.

In August 2013, at the urging of the Indiana State Department of Health, IOWPA rolled out our first Inspector Certification program and certified 29 contractor inspectors plus six health department officers. Being certified as an inspector gives our installers another revenue stream.

Although the National Association of Wastewater Technicians has a thorough inspector’s certification, it did not cover some of the codes specific to Indiana. Our three-day training includes two hands-on system inspections and evaluations. The certification committee developed a very detailed checklist that is available on our website [].

We also partner with the vendors to certify installers on specific products that have been approved by the state of Indiana. Some vendors have also submitted their continuing education programs to us.

We have several installer training and exam opportunities throughout the state, along with an annual conference. We also have a booth at the Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo International. Our members and board members will staff the booth and we’ll give away at least one free membership.

It is interesting that you don’t do any lobbying. Why is that?

Sheets: As a 501(c)(3) educational organization, IOWPA cannot lobby. However, many of our members actively participate in reaching out to their legislators on a variety of issues that might impact the industry.

There has been some talk about reforming as a 501(c)(6) trade association and then we could lobby, but that’s not something that is really on the radar. If we did that, we would keep the 501(c)(3) as a foundation for our scholarship program and things like that. It is something other organizations should be aware of, especially if you are forming a new one.

Do you find that you still have a voice in the regulatory process without lobbying?

Maule: We do. IOWPA can’t say we take this or that position, but we can encourage our members to contact their representatives. We have embraced local and state health department professionals by offering them complimentary membership and installer certification opportunities. With the support of our regulators, we have successfully reached installer professionals around the state, elevating their level of professionalism with training and certification opportunities several times a year.

The state Department of Health has revised the codes numerous times and they always reach out to us and ask for our input. They don’t always agree, but they always ask us and give us an opportunity to review new regulations.

Many of the regulators also give freely of their time to IOWPA. Our vice president [Alice Quinn] is with the Indiana State Department of Health. We have many county health department people who are excited about the organization and like learning more about septic systems, sharing information with the members and learning from our members. It’s a really good give-and-take and exchange of information.

Sheets: Without that relationship, we would not have been able to accomplish some of the things we have accomplished. While we have a state code, each county can have specific ordinances that are set by their County Commissioners.

There are also some regulatory issues right now that are important to our soil scientist members. And one of our board members [Gary Steinhardt] is from the Purdue University Department of Agronomy, so we have expertise available in that area.

You are also involved in the community. Tell us about your Field Day.

Sheets: For the past several years IOWPA has held a Field Day to help a family or organization in need. We request candidates with the help of health departments who know about failed systems and people who need assistance. In October 2013, with the help of the Steuben County Health Department and the Indiana State Health Department, about 25 IOWPA contractors and suppliers volunteered to install an elevated sand mound system for a disabled Vietnam veteran. Our members donated and sponsored labor, equipment, product, money and food. The total value of the donations was more than $16,000, including 210 tons of sand donated by six local gravel pits.

What is the history of IOWPA?

Maule: It was legally formed in September 2000. The key organizers at the time were Greg Miller, then with Infiltrator Systems and now with A & R Waste Management, Don Jones of Purdue University, Greg Lake, Tim Strombeck, John Vanderbosch, and Forrest Hershberger to name a few. Greg [Miller] wanted to bring in the support of the manufacturers to help professionalize the onsite wastewater industry. At the time, training was available to state and county regulators, but there wasn’t much for the rest of the industry, which led to IOWPA.

The group traces its roots back to 1982 when it was the Northern Indiana Pumpers Association, which grew into the Indiana Pumpers Association. It was formed to help the pumpers deal with the EPA 503 regulations regarding septage hauling and land application.


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