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Water: Septic (Onsite / Decentralized) Systems

Related Programs

There are many programs, both at the EPA and elsewhere, which are relevant to decentralized wastewater management and treatment. The following programs are related to the Decentralized Wastewater Program and may be of interest to stakeholders in learning more about the various ways that decentralized wastewater is integrated in environmental quality, planning, protection, and conservation.

EPA Programs

Biosolids Program - During the treatment of domestic sewage in a treatment facility, solid, semisolid or liquid untreated residue, called sewage sludge, is generated. When sewage sludge is treated and processed, it becomes biosolids. Biosolids can be safely recycled and applied as fertilizer to improve and maintain productive soils and stimulate plant growth.

Coastal Waters - Coastal Zone Management programs must satisfy specific conditions, including the adoption of onsite wastewater treatment systems management measures that protect nitrogen-limited waters.

Drinking Water Source Water Assessment and Protection - A significant number of community water systems list onsite systems as a potential contributor to pollution of underground and surface drinking water sources.

Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) Program - The Environmental Technology Verification Program verifies the performance of innovative technologies that have the potential to improve protection of human health and the environment. ETV accelerates the entrance of new environmental technologies into domestic and international marketplaces. One part of the ETV program is the Water Quality Protection Center, which verifies the performance of commercial ready technologies that protect groundwater and surface waters from contamination. This center has verified technologies in a range of categories, including decentralized wastewater treatment, making credible operating data available that can be widely distributed and accepted by regulators and others. 

Management of Scrap Tires and Septic Systems - Some states allow tire shreds to be used in construction of drain fields for septic systems.

National Estuary Program - A number of National Estuary Program Comprehensive Conservation Management Plans list the reduction of nutrient and bacteria loadings from onsite systems among their key objectives.

National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Wastewater Permits - Surface-discharging onsite wastewater treatment systems can be covered under general permit programs, which might need to be strengthened in some states.

Nonpoint Source and the Section 319 Grant Program - Under section 319 of the Clean Water Act, EPA annually provides grants to states for controlling nonpoint sources of pollution, such as agricultural runoff, mining activities and malfunctioning onsite septic systems. In states where onsite systems have been identified as a significant source of such pollution, the 319 funds may be used to construct, upgrade or repair onsite systems.

Office of Wetlands - Onsite systems can be a significant source of nutrient inputs to valued wetlands, limiting the wetlands' ability to process nitrogen and phosphorus loads from other sources.

Source Water Protection - Check out this site to learn more about source water protection. The site offers the Citizen's Guide to Ground-Water Protection, as well as helpful information on state and tribal initiatives, various EPA programs, and grants that support source water protection.

State Revolving Fund (SRF) - State Revolving Fund programs in each state and Puerto Rico are funded by EPA and operate like banks. Assets are used to make low- or no-interest loans to install new systems; replace, upgrade, or modify inadequate or failing systems; and establish decentralized wastewater management programs. From July 1987 to June 2011, 19 states have collectively allocated $151.6 million to individual/decentralized sewage treatment.

Stormwater Phase II of the NPDES Program - Phase II requires each municipal separate storm sewer system to address six minimum control measures. One measure is to detect and eliminate illicit discharges, including flows of partially treated sewage from septic systems that reach storm sewers.

Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) - Nutrient and bacteria TMDLs often include septic systems as a key contributor to water quality criteria violations and beneficial use impairment.

Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program - Large-capacity septic systems are subject to regulation under the UIC program. The disposal of industrial or commercial waste into an onsite system can inhibit wastewater treatment and cause the system to fail. Chemicals can also pass through the system, enter the ground water and pose a serious contamination threat.

Water Quality Standards - Water Quality Standards define the goals for a waterbody by designating its uses, setting criteria to protect those uses, and establishing provisions to protect water quality from pollutants. Many states have found failing septic systems have caused exceedances to water quality standards.

Other Programs

Rural Community Assistance Program (RCAP) Help for Small Community Wastewater Projects Exit EPA Disclaimer- This program provides training and technical assistance focused on addressing wastewater treatment and disposal issues in small, rural and tribal communities that have difficulties complying with Clean Water Act requirements.

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