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Water: Septic (Onsite / Decentralized) Systems

Guidance, Manuals, and Policies

EPA has developed several documents outlining its mission, priorities and regulatory authorities as well as guidance and technical information to help communities establish comprehensive septic (onsite) management programs.

  • Guidance: Voluntary national guidelines and implementation tools to improve the overall management of septic (onsite) wastewater systems.
  • Manuals: Technical information reflective of sound, professional practice.
  • Policy and Regulations: Congressional reports, program strategy, Memorandum of Understanding, and regulatory requirements for Class V wells.


Voluntary National Guidelines for Management of Onsite and Clustered (Decentralized) Wastewater Treatment Systems (PDF) (62 pp, 1MB, About PDF) - Guide guidelinesto help communities establish comprehensive management programs to ensure that their decentralized systems function properly. Proper management involves implementing a comprehensive group of activities, such as public education and participation, planning, operation and maintenance, and financial assistance and funding (EPA 832-B-03-001).

Handbook for Managing Onsite and Clustered (Decentralized) Wastewater Treatment Systems (PDF) (66 pp, 1MB, About PDF) - A "how-to" guide for implementing EPA's Voluntary National Guidelines for Management of Onsite and Clustered (Decentralized) Wastewater Treatment Systems. The guide describes a step-by-step approach for the development of a community management program for decentralized wastewater systems. It includes specific community examples, gives an overview of the elements essential for sound management of these systems, and provides links to extensive resources (EPA 832-B-05-001).

It's Your Choice: A Guidebook for Local Officials on Small Community Wastewater Management Options (PDF) (83 pp, 31MB, About PDF) - Booklet that describes wastewater management systems for communities serving populations fewer than 10,000 people. It presents options to help address small communities' existing and future wastewater treatment needs and will help educate community officials and other decision makers (EPA 430-9-87-006).

National Management Measures to Control Nonpoint Source Pollution from Urban Areas (PDF) (518 pp, 5MB, About PDF) - Provides guidance to states, territories, authorized tribes and the public regarding management measures that can be used to reduce nonpoint source pollution from urban activities (EPA 841-B-05-004).

Tribal Management of Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (PDF) (4 pp, 503K, About PDF) - Document to help tribal nations determine what level of management or tribal regulation will work best to ensure that onsite wastewater treatment systems do not affect public health and protect the environment (EPA 909-F-04-007).

A Plain English Guide to the EPA Part 503 Biosolids Rule - Guide to help in the interpretation and implementation of 40 CFR Part 503; these regulations establish requirements for the final use or disposal of sewage sludge (biosolids) and domestic septage that all states must meet (EPA 832-R-93-003).

Guidance Specifying Management Measures for Sources of Nonpoint Pollution in Coastal Waters - Guidance for states and territories on the types of management measures that should be included in state and territorial Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Programs (EPA 840-B-92-002).

Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination Guidance Manual - Guidance manual for Phase II NPDES MS4 communities and others seeking to establish Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination (IDDE) programs and investigate non-storm water entries into storm drainage systems (EPA Cooperative Agreement X-82907801-0).


Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Manual (PDF) (367 pp, 21MB, About PDF) - This manual provides supplemental and new information for onsite_manualwastewater treatment professionals in the public and private sectors, expanding upon the design manual listed below. It is not intended to replace the previous manual but is a more focused approach to further explore and discuss recent developments in onsite treatment technologies, system design and long-term system management (EPA 625-R-00-008).

Design Manual: Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Disposal Systems (PDF) (409 pp, 9MB, About PDF) - This design manual provides technical information for those involved in the design, construction, operation, maintenance and regulation of onsite wastewater treatment and disposal systems. It does not contain standards for those systems, nor does it contain pertinent rules or regulations (EPA 625-1-80-012).

Policy and Regulation

Response to Congress on Use of Decentralized Wastewater Treatment Systems (PDF) (101 pp, 5.8MB, About PDF) - This report to Congress examines the feasibility of decentralized treatment as a lower-cost option for the many communities with wastewater treatment needs. EPA's report recognizes lack of management as a major barrier to implementing decentralized systems and concludes that "adequately managed decentralized wastewater systems are a cost-effective and long-term option for meeting public health and water quality goals, particularly in less densely populated areas" (EPA 832-R-97-001b).

2011 Decentralized Wastewater Management Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) (PDF) (5 pp, 248K, About PDF) - EPA and 16 partner organizations are joined by a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to work collaboratively at the national level to improve decentralized performance and protect our nation's public health and water resources.

Decentralized Wastewater Treatment Systems: A Program Strategy (PDF) (14 pp, 2MB, About PDF) - This strategy presents EPA's vision, mission, and actions to improve the performance of decentralized wastewater treatment systems, thereby providing better protection of public health and water resources (EPA 832-R-05-002).

When Is a Septic System Regulated as a Class V Well? (PDF) (4 pp, 2MB, About PDF) - This fact sheet is intended to help regulators determine which septic systems should be regulated as Class V wells (EPA 816-F-03-002).

Seepage Pits May Endanger Ground Water Quality (PDF) (2 pp, 73K, About PDF) - In 1999 EPA promulgated regulations prohibiting the use of cesspools for the disposal of sewage from multifamily dwellings and any other buildings where cesspool capacity was for 20 or more persons per day, such as schools, hospitals and manufacturing facilities (EPA 909-F-01-001).

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