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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Information and Education Programs - University of Rhode Island Onsite Wastewater Training Center: Pioneering Agency Teaches, Demonstrates Innovative Systems

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David Dow
Program Manager
Onsite Wastewater Training Center

George Loomis
Onsite Wastewater Training Center

Approximately one-third of Rhode Island's population is served by some 150,000 on-site wastewater treatment systems, which discharge about 7 billion gallons of wastewater annually. Failed and substandard systems are considered to be one of the greatest contributors of pathogens to Rhode Island's waters. For many years, on-site systems have been considered temporary infrastructure to be abandoned as soon as centralized sewer systems became available. Neither government nor individual owners gave operation and maintenance of these systems much thought. Over the past few years, thinking has changed as the reality has set in that suburban economies cannot support ubiquitous central sewers.

In light of this realization, Rhode Island has become active in promoting improved on-site wastewater treatment technology and development of management infrastructure for these systems. One of the pioneering agencies of the decentralized wastewater management paradigm is the University of Rhode Island's (URI) Onsite Wastewater Training Center.

In 1994 and 1995 URI received 319 funding to help establish the training center. The 319 grant seed money helped fund the aboveground installation of several innovative technologies, as well as development of several training modules. The 319 funds were used in combination with Rhode Island Cooperative Extension funds, other outside grants, substantial private-sector donations, and class training fees.

In addition to providing a wide variety of training activities, the training center has spearheaded, under the auspices of several federal and state-funded demonstration projects, the installation of several dozen innovative demonstration systems throughout the state to remediate failed septic systems. Training center personnel work with municipalities to assist them in developing on-site wastewater management programs, assessing risks, and drafting zoning ordinances based on treatment standards and performance-based wastewater protection zones. Demonstration systems and training systems at the center are used to educate audiences that range from homeowners to septic system design and installation professionals.

The training center supports regulatory programs in Rhode Island by monitoring alternative and innovative system treatment performance, developing numerous licensing program courses for wastewater practitioners, assessing standards and regulations, and developing guidance documents. In short, URI's Onsite Wastewater Training Center has become a major focal point for helping to promote change and for demonstrating innovation in the field of on-site wastewater treatment.

For more information about individual demonstration projects, see http://www.uri.edu/ce/wq/owtc/html/owtc.html. Exit EPA Disclaimer

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