Onsite Industry White Paper
. . . A look through a different lens at the current state of affairs in the Arizona On-Site residential wastewater treatment & effluent disposal industry…
While I have actively engaged in this industry for over 30 years, by no means do I consider that I am an expert as I learn something new about this industry every day. I can, however, report to you one of the basic flaws nation-wide and in Arizona, is “we” – those associated directly in the residential on-site industry – do not truly know the actual “viable-life-span” of any system. How long is any system fully functional & operationally viable…? At what point should it actually be replaced…? And replaced with what…? These are questions which all of us associated with the residential on-site business have chosen, individually and collectively, to never honestly discuss, let alone resolve. These types of questions open up a giant can of worms, namely, being forced to inform and admit to the “public” the “septic” system installed on their property will not function indefinitely and certainly not into perpetuity. Everyone affixed to any municipal sewer system remits payment via taxes or monthly fees for the repair, upgrade, rehab, replacement of all portions of that wastewater treatment and effluent disposal system. Even municipal systems require near constant upgrading, repair, rehab, there are no exceptions. Those of us actively associated in the residential on-site industry choose not to inform the public that at some point a residential owner’s septic system most likely goes into a failure mode. Honestly addressing these questions opens a Pandora’s Box to questions such as who is accountable, responsible..? Should there be a guarantee with each system, should there be mandatory inspections and mandatory maintenance requirements….? As it is, currently in Arizona, a permit given to install any form of residential on-site septic system is without any time limitation, granted essentially into perpetuity. And, moreover, these same systems operate without any overt regulatory oversight or mandatory, compulsory forms of verifiable routine maintenance.
There is an unstated and silent caveat which few want to discuss, that being when you sell the property, especially today, there are re-sale inspections and certifications which are required prior to closure of the sale. It is hoped in time these inspections and certification will by themselves alter how the home selling game is played. Fortunately for Sellers, today, the current Arizona re-sale septic certification and inspection is nothing more than a meaningless “paper-tiger” and the only party who will ultimately be held accountable and responsible is the buyer.
One item which has evolved into a significant topic, especially for any system which has mechanical parts, is related to products such as pumps, control panels, and other mechanical or electrical devices. I can report unquestioningly pumps today do not have the “life-span” of pumps I was able to purchase years ago. Pump manufacturers have taken a page from automobile manufacturers and build obsolesce into their product. They no longer build pumps that last for 10 years or more. Today we are lucky in some cases if the pump lasts more than one to two years.
There are absolutely NO fail-safe solutions in this business.
To date, “we” – that’s those of us associated with the residential on-site wastewater treatment & effluent disposal industry – have been able to engage in a version of the old sleight of hand shell game and hide the hard facts and distasteful truths from the public, and even from ourselves. “We” have chosen to attach unsubstantiated belief and credence to newly emerging “wiz-bang-techno-stuff” with creative names, colorful brochures, affixed with affidavits from active or retired university professors with Ph.D. credentials and assorted honorariums as proof these products are the answer and solution to all of the vexing problems facing the industry. Each new “gizmo” promises to be virtually maintenance free, simple to operate, inexpensive to operate, fully self-contained, access to near instant 24/7 trouble shooting and “live” personal service no matter where the system is installed. Moreover we encourage and permit manufacturers and vendors to advertise and sell these devices as impervious to adverse climatic conditions, unaffected by varying daily volumes or strength of influent loading BOD, TSS, COD, etc.
Operating in our contemporary free-enterprise system, wherein capitalism is God and virtually untouchable, wherein any formal governmental oversight is discouraged, is it any wonder, “we” do not choose to know or choose to address the pertinent issues of:
- What honestly is the actual “viable-life-span” of any system…?
- How long is any system fully functional & operationally viable…?
- At what point should it actually be replaced…?
- And replaced with what…?
- When do “we” admit to the “public” the “septic” system installed on their property will not function indefinitely and certainly not into perpetuity…?
- When and under what conditions do “we” require objective compelling and
- substantive proof that any new “gizmo” promises to be virtually maintenance free,
- simple to operate, inexpensive to operate, fully self-contained, access to near instant 24/7 trouble shooting and “live” personal service no matter where the system is installed…?
- When and under what conditions do “we” require objective compelling and substantive proof that encourage and permit manufacturers and vendors to advertise and sell these devices as impervious to adverse climatic conditions, unaffected by varying daily volumes or strength of influent loading BOD, TSS, COD, etc….?
Curiously there are many within the Arizona Onsite industry who mouth the words … “level-playing-field” … then go to great lengths and ends to seek and curry favor with selected regulators to look with favor upon “our” system and product while at the same time holding competitive products to a quite different, often more restrictive standard. And, while “we” choose to believe as “we” develop, alter and revise the rules and regulations governing the design, installation, operation and maintenance of all residential septic systems, “we” have need to see to it that they fit the mantra … “one size, fits all” … Then “we” quite promptly request the regulatory sector evaluate and “see” the subtle differences between “our” system and our “ne’er-do-well” competitor.
Might one be justified to ask…? Specifically what is the “bottom-line” purpose of any rule or regulation promulgated governing the design, installation, operation and maintenance of any form of residential on-site wastewater treatment and effluent disposal system…? The usual and customary reply from all of us associated with the industry is …”to serve and protect the public health and welfare” … of all citizens of a state.
If “we” truly believe this is the over-arching goal, then the so-called “Commandments” governing this industry might include:
- The permit granted for this site is for a viable functional life of any residential on-site system shall be XX calendar years from the date of the permit and the permit shall immediately terminate thereon.
- At the end of XX years it is solely the responsibility of the property owner at that time to prove the system as originally installed continues to be viable and functional.
- The test determining and proving viability is defined as …………………………….
- The homeowner is aware, accepts and acknowledges the viable functional life of the system installed on this property is affected solely by the daily volume and strength of influent BOD entering the system which can have immediate and lasting adverse affects on the system.
- The homeowner is aware, accepts and acknowledges the viable functional life of the system installed on this property is affected the introduction and flushing of any form of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, food grease, cleaning solvents, chlorine, water softener backwash, and …………………….
- The homeowner is aware, accepts and acknowledges there are on-going costs associated with the use and ownership of any residential on-site system and he voluntarily without duress chooses, elects to meeting all these costs whenever the occur.
- The homeowner is aware, accepts and acknowledges should he fail to meet these monetary and financial commitments immediately the respective county into which this system is installed shall be the right and the obligation to make and/or provide the service required and place a lien on the property which shall run at the highest rate of interest allowed by law until paid in full by the current property owner.
- All subsurface vessels into which any form of sewage is to flow and be contained underground shall be water-tight
- All subsurface vessels into which any form of sewage is to flow and be contained underground shall be field verified they are water-tight prior to being permitted to be placed into service and shall be re-verified in the field as being water tight 24 calendar months after being placed into service.
- All subsurface vessels into which sewage flows shall have risers accessible from finish ground elevation over all ports of entry
- All subsurface vessels into which sewage flows shall be vacuum pumped and rendered empty not less than once every three calendar years and a copy of such pumping by an accredited vendor shall be maintained by both the homeowner as well as the vendor for the life of the system.
- Water tight is defined as ……………………………………
- Sewage effluent disposal fields are restricted to the first (top, upper) 48 inches of the original ground topography
- Soil into which sewage effluent can be disposed is defined as …………………………
- The salient point of this discussion is to make any and all property and homeowners aware and secure his/her acknowledgment they have been duly, properly, promptly noticed.
As it is, “we” – those associated with the Arizona on-site industry – choose to have these notices served to unsuspecting property and homeowners via stealth. Then “we” all act surprised this sudden awareness results in overt anger, frustration, finger pointing, name calling and polarization of positions. Lest we forget, it is my feeling the Arizona On-Site Industry consists of: academia, state, county, city environmental regulators, design engineers and other authorized individuals, professional engineers, vendors, manufacturers, contractors, O&M providers, homeowners and JQ Public. Notice, such as I am suggesting, should be freely openly and completely granted to all of these participants without pause.
The goal should be, in my judgment, to make the rules and regulations governing the design, installation, operation & maintenance of all residential on-site wastewater treatment and sewage effluent disposal systems as transparent as humanly possible and at the same time clear, concise and as understandable as humanly possible.
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