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Published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Michigan

Citation:  Paper number  701P0104,  . (doi: 10.13031/2013.15816)
Authors:   Richard J. Otis
Keywords:   Small community, unsewered community, onsite system, decentralized wastewater, central sewerage, decentralized sewerage, regulatory programs, wastewater treatment

Programs for regulating wastewater treatment in the US have developed along two independent tracks. One is the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting program established under the federal Clean Water Act to regulate municipal and industrial wastewater treatment plant point source discharges. The other is a diverse group of local programs that regulate treatment facilities for individual homes and small commercial establishments. Both programs attempt to control risks to public health and water quality. The NPDES program permits discharges from treatment plants that discharge to surface waters. The treated discharges must meet water quality requirements established to protect water quality. The onsite treatment programs permit construction of treatment systems that rely on physical separation of the wastewater from water resources and human activities to protect health and water quality.

This bifurcated regulatory approach has worked reasonably well because their respective jurisdictions rarely overlapped. However, more and more frequently these two disparate programs are finding common jurisdictions in small, unsewered communities where neither program is very responsive to the needs and financial capabilities of their citizens. Costs of central sewerage are often prohibitive and approved onsite technologies may not be suited to the physical characteristics of their communities. With one option unaffordable and the other technically infeasible, the communities often do nothing. This allows the threat to public health and water quality to continue while residents watch their property values and quality of life suffer. A better approach is needed if residents of small communities are to realize the same environmental benefits as their urban counterparts.

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