Neighbors on Septage Disposal: It’s Not Our Problem

They create the waste, but homeowners in one Virginia county say ‘no way’ to a septage transfer facility in their backyard.
Neighbors on Septage Disposal: It’s Not Our Problem
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About 21,000 homeowners in Fairfax County, Virginia, utilize septic systems. Their waste represents 49 percent of the sewage generated by the county in a northern part of the state.

Further, 3,200 restaurants and other businesses have grease traps that need pumping and transfer to sewage treatment plants.

So how many of those decentralized wastewater system users understand the need for a septage receiving facility and wouldn’t mind it being located in their community? Roughly none, it seems.

Looking to decommission an aging waste transfer site, the county hired a consultant to identify a location for a new facility that would ensure environmental safety, effective land use, major road access for pumpers and adequate pipe size to convey the waste into sewers. One potential site on public land jumped out as the most suitable, at Lake Fairfax Park. The knee-jerk reaction from nearby residents was predictable: Not in my backyard!

As is so often the case when wastewater issues arise, neighbors to the proposed transfer site came to a meeting — petition in hand — to share their opposition. They claimed the receiving station wasn’t necessary. They said it would threaten a nice park. They said it would cost taxpayers a lot of money. They criticized the approval process and said neighbors weren’t informed about the plans.

Take care of your waste

These are all common reactions anytime people don’t want — or don’t understand — a proposed land usage in their neighborhood. The vociferous  — and often irrational — response is often described by the acronym NIMBY, or Not In My Back Yard.

One of the ironies pumping professionals face is that folks are perfectly happy to adapt to septic systems when it allows them to move from the city to a bucolic country setting, but they don’t want to take responsibility for safely disposing of septic tank sludge they produce. That goes for following proper pumping intervals, recognizing the efficiencies of land application or the need for a septage receiving station.

I don’t want to dwell specifically on the controversy in Fairfax County, as it was reported by several media outlets recently. It’s just one example of the disconnect people have when it comes to generating and then dealing with the waste they produce.

Pumpers are caught in the middle of these swirling NIMBY battles on a regular basis. As an industry we need to work to counter unfounded claims and calm fears often born of ignorance about proper septic maintenance and sound disposal practices. You don’t ask to be thrust into these arguments, but as the expert in wastewater hauling, you must sometimes bring a rational voice to the conversation.

The controversy over a septage receiving station seems quite benign when compared to permitting for land application near suburban population centers, for instance. It seems that those implementing the receiving station or the local pumping community could easily show justification for a new facility and calm fears over odors or pollution.

Success story

Pumpers could explain the economic impact of failing to provide adequate dumping opportunities for sludge they collect throughout the county. A convenient transfer site will shorten disposal runs, most likely holding down costs to the end user. Further, an additional or updated facility will enhance safety and reduce problems like odors, spillage and truck traffic.

Health officials could explain that modern septage receiving facilities are clean, efficient and unobtrusive to neighbors. I would welcome them to point to the successful Livingston County, Michigan, facility we featured in a Pumper story and video presentation. See the story, “Dumping Done Right’,’ and a video here:

The Michigan facility is a model for the industry. About 20 pumpers shared their ideas for the design, resulting in efficient and trouble-free disposal stops of about 20 minutes, with drive-through bays and computer printouts of dump tickets. The building was constructed to look like a modern brick firehouse, taking the aesthetic concerns of area residents into consideration. It shows what can be accomplished when the public and private sector work together to solve a wastewater hauling challenge.

As for the reaction to the proposed septage receiving station in Virginia, pumpers and health department officials should patiently answer the questions from irate residents and seek to educate the public on the importance of safe and effective wastewater disposal. And the homeowners using septic systems should understand their concern about wastewater shouldn’t begin and end with the flush of the toilet.


Our State of the States feature in Pumper is 3 years old. We’ve written stories about many state and provincial wastewater trade associations covering most of North America. It’s enlightening to see how issues differ from the southeast United States in Florida to the western reaches of Canada in British Columbia. It’s good to follow how these grass-roots groups work to enhance the professionalism of onsite and pumping industries — and in so doing improve the environment of their friends and neighbors.

We look forward to talking to professionals in the remaining regions. Writer Doug Day has had no response from trade associations in Delaware, Idaho, Kentucky and Maine. He has also called on regulators in states that don’t have organized wastewater associations. Those are Hawaii, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming.

If you are involved in associations in the states yet to be featured, or if you are a regulator in the wastewater field where no association has been established, please contact me so we can bring light to industry initiatives in your area. In some cases, it’s possible we have the wrong contact person for some of these states. I’d appreciate your help in rectifying that so we can be sure to truly provide coast-to-coast coverage of the industry.

In addition to the State of the States (or Provinces) feature, we track wastewater news from across the U.S. and Canada every month as part of our Rules and Regs column. From those reporting efforts, we have a suggestion for leaders of the many regional trade groups: Look to update your website with new content on a more regular basis.

Just like any business going online, constantly adding new information will make your web presence more relevant for association members and the general public who visit to learn more about their onsite systems or wastewater hauling options. It appears that too many trade association websites suffer from neglect — whether it’s through turnover in leadership or lack of volunteer content contributors.

The first rule of a dynamic web or social media presence is keeping materials fresh. Be sure to post contact information for your latest slate of association officers. Seek out contributions from your members, whether it’s a legislative update, company ownership changes or updates, or photos of work being done in the field. The more you post, the more exciting your website will be — and that will prompt a lot of return traffic from people who want to learn more.


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