Melissa Kramer - Syracuse Center of Excellence

Strategic Wastewater
Infrastructure Practices for Rural
OCTOBER 7, 2010
Planning for Wastewater Needs
 Will significantly affect region’s
character and growth
Density and location of development
Availability of uninterrupted natural and
agricultural areas
Health of the watershed
 Rural communities are best served
by a menu of options
No one solution will be appropriate for all
Understanding the relationship between
wastewater infrastructure and the shape
of community growth will help
communities to make better choices.
Conventional Onsite (Septic) Systems
 Siting needs usually lead to low-density development
 Many older systems responsible for nutrient and
microbial contamination of ground and surface
water, including drinking water supplies.
 Cluster systems (shared or community systems) tend
to lead to more compactly spaced buildings but can
also enable tiny pockets of residential housing
 The Clean Watersheds Needs Survey 2004 Report
to Congress estimated that $3 billion is needed to
address failing onsite/decentralized wastewater
treatment systems.
Advanced Treatment Systems
 Enable more compact land uses
 Can achieve wastewater treatment levels comparable
to centralized sewerage, including removal of
 However, for better or for worse, can open up areas
to development that were previously considered
unbuildable using conventional treatment.
Centralized Sewerage
 Enables the densest land uses
 Has also enabled and even encouraged
development in rural areas regardless
of whether it is located in an area that
is appropriate for additional growth
Need additional ratepayers to support the
cost of the system
Many communities driven to rezone the area
Developers attracted to areas with
wastewater infrastructure
 May improve water quality by
replacing failing septic systems, but
improvements may be offset by new
pollution problems due to sprawl
What to do?
 Carefully consider community development and
water quality goals for the entire watershed.
 Lot-by-lot or neighborhood-by-neighborhood
Ignore incremental and cumulative effects
Give developers more control over community growth than the
municipality itself
Can change the character of the community, increase costs for
wastewater management, and degrade the watershed.
 Rural communities can protect water quality without
sacrificing other worthy goals, such as maintaining
rural character or promoting thriving town centers.
Plan for Wastewater Infrastructure Needs
 Carefully consider ramifications of
using wastewater treatment
regulations as a planning tool
Often restricts options that would be
compatible with overall development goals.
Maximum flexibility generally needed for
difficult sites
Undesirable development patterns can occur
with all technology
 Address needs on a regional basis in
connection with comprehensive land
use planning
Identify where existing infrastructure has
excess capacity
Delineate areas where public infrastructure
will be provided and areas where it will not
Consider cumulative impacts on water
quality and water recharge
Maintain Existing Decentralized Systems
 A program to actively manage decentralized wastewater
treatment systems allows communities to maintain them
as a viable choice
 Components of successful models
Inventory of existing systems
Public education
Inspection and maintenance requirement
Municipal responsibility and control
Funded by service fees from users of decentralized systems
 If the costs of proper maintenance are not fully
accounted for
Decentralized systems encouraged in areas that would be better
served by centralized sewerage.
The municipality ultimately bears the cost of system upgrades
Install New Decentralized Systems
 Advantages of decentralized systems with advanced technology
 More compatible with compact land use patterns
 Can service single lots, multi-lots, or even villages
 Treatment can be comparable to a centralized system with lower capital and
operations costs
 Enable additional development in areas without sewerage or the ability to
support the nutrient loads from conventional onsite systems
 Recharge groundwater and maintain stream flows
 Regular maintenance required: communities should have a
management program for all decentralized wastewater treatment
 A performance standard can preserve water quality
Consider desired land use patterns, current water quality impairments, and
projected population growth
A performance standard that effectively prohibits new conventional onsite
systems may be warranted
Expand or Install Centralized Wastewater Treatment Systems
 Centralized systems will be the best
wastewater treatment solution for some
rural communities
 But consider the long-term implications
Is the area planned for higher-density
Will the new ratepayers be able to pay for
installation and maintenance, including eventual
Will the new ratepayers come from outside the
region or from the central core?
 Target such infrastructure to existing
communities and planned growth areas
established regionally based on
investments in transit, housing, and jobs
Modest Adjustments
 Align water infrastructure investments with other public
Establish a decentralized wastewater treatment system
management program (responsible management entity)
Develop a comprehensive land use plan that can guide
decisions about appropriate wastewater treatment options
Deny applications for new conventional onsite systems that
are inconsistent with local water quality goals and/or land use
Establish a process to approve new treatment technologies
without lengthy variance procedures.
Require developers to finance all system construction costs.
Establish criteria for determining when centralized sewerage
expansion is appropriate
Major Modifications
 If necessary, support state enabling legislation to grant
municipalities authority to adopt local wastewater management
Right to establish wastewater management districts and zoning regulations
Right to enter private property for inspections
Ability to order the maintenance of a system
Ability to levy fines and assess fees
 Require long-term financial maintenance plans for any new
decentralized systems
 Establish a performance bond or escrow account for future
operation and maintenance costs
 Authorize the use of Clean Water State Revolving Fund dollars for
decentralized wastewater treatment. Require that a municipal
management program cover decentralized systems funded through
the CWSRF.
Wholesale Adjustments
 Establish a mechanism for regional planning of
wastewater infrastructure that can overcome
fragmentation of system ownership, operation, and
regulation across political boundaries
 Delineate specific growth areas where compact
development may be located; associate with the
transfer of development rights
Practice Pointers
 Base implementation decisions on overall water
quality, public health, and land use goals irrespective
of whether the municipality or a private developer is
funding the project infrastructure
 Ensure that sufficient capacity reserved in treatment
plants to accommodate and direct normal growth to
built-up areas
 Price services to reflect the full cost of building,
operating, and maintaining the system regardless of
the type of system used
Additional Information
 National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association. Model Code
Framework for the Decentralized Wastewater Infrastructure. 2007.
 U.S. EPA Voluntary National Guidelines for Management of Onsite
and Clustered (Decentralized) Wastewater Treatment Systems.
 U.S. EPA. Protecting Water Resources with Smart Growth. 2004.
 U.S. EPA Decentralized Wastewater Treatment Systems: A
Program Strategy.
df. 2005.
 [email protected] 202-564-8497

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