Texas wastewater professionals are passionate about serving the industry through rules for proper onsite system maintenance.
As a charter member, Executive Director Tim Taylor has a wealth of knowledge about the Texas On-Site Wastewater Association (TOWA). Taylor helped form TOWA in 1992 after he and a few colleagues attended one of the first meetings of the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association.
After 16 years traveling the country for Consolidated Treatment Systems of Franklin, Ohio, he became the head of TOWA eight years ago. “The association decided we needed an executive director who was from the industry,” says Taylor. Previously, the position was held by an association management company that represented other professional groups.
What is the biggest onsite wastewater issue in Texas?
Taylor: What we would like to see – and it might take several years – is better enforcement. The Legislature is continuously cutting budgets that have hurt enforcement efforts at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and at the county level.
The smaller counties are where you find less stringent requirements that can lead to serious health and environmental problems. More large subdivisions are being built in many rural areas that were used to homes with a lot of acreage. Homes on smaller lots can cause more health risks if their system fails.
Have you approached the Legislature on the enforcement issue?
Taylor: We try to visit with House and Senate members on the committees that govern natural resources while the Legislature is in session during our legislative day in Austin.
Maintenance is one of the biggest things we try to educate them about. They only meet once every two years for a four-month session. There are a lot of issues they see as much more important.
We were able to stop a bill that would have required a $1 million liability insurance policy on every individual who holds an onsite license in 2010. Companies have insurance, but this bill would have required each of their employees to have an individual policy.
We used to have a good system in Texas that required homeowners to have a maintenance agreement. The Legislature changed the law in 2008 to allow homeowners to maintain their own systems. We are not opposed to that, but we firmly believe they need to be educated and should file the same reports as the maintenance companies.
It was bad for the first few years after the law changed. Since then, many counties have stepped in with their own rules to mandate homeowners have a maintenance contract or be trained to do it themselves and file the same reports.
Have you done anything to improve the situation without depending on the Legislature?
Taylor: We’re encouraging everyone in the industry to use every contact they have with customers as an educational opportunity. We want to let homeowners know the downsides of not taking care of their system, not only the environmental and public health issues but also the economics.
It’s gotten better with the county rules, and homeowners have become more aware that instead of spending $300 on maintenance, they may be looking at a $3,000 repair bill if they fail to have routine maintenance done.
What is TOWA’s role in educating onsite professionals?
Taylor: We are the only approved provider for training needed to get a license for maintenance technicians and maintenance providers. The technician course is held every two months. The advanced provider course is offered four times a year.
License holders need 24 hours of continuing education in the three-year license period. Our annual conference in March was worth 10 credit hours this year. Our speakers must be approved by the TCEQ. This year we had 838 attendees out of about 5,000 licensed individuals in Texas. Members also get two hours of credit for attending local chapter meetings. We have four active chapters and five more in the planning stage.
Our 700 members include installers, service providers, pumpers, manufacturers, suppliers, engineers, designers, registered sanitarians, research and academic professionals, consultants and regulators. In Texas, the onsite regulations deal with systems limited to those under 5,000 gpd and 99 percent of our members do residential and small commercial systems. The larger systems are regulated by another division of TCEQ.
How do you work with TCEQ?
Taylor: We work closely with the regulators, and I’m proud of the relationship we have. Our board includes regulators, designers, several sanitarians, two professional engineers, pumpers, installers, maintenance providers and site evaluators. Many of us hold multiple licenses. I have a degree in biology, am a registered sanitarian, and have licenses as an installer, site evaluator and maintenance provider.
TOWA is always a member of TCEQ’s stakeholders group that makes recommendations on rule changes before the draft goes out for public comment. State law requires all agencies to hold public hearings on rule changes, but TCEQ goes beyond that with the stakeholders group.
In 2010, TOWA worked with TCEQ to change part of our state rules to grandfather 1,100 licensed maintenance providers. It exempted them from a new requirement to take the advanced maintenance provider course. If you include the $450 cost of the course, travel, food and lodging plus losing two days of work - the savings for those individuals was more than $1,000.