Design Competition Seeks New Ways To Bring Wastewater Treatment To Rural Alaska Villages

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The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has selected six teams to continue in its Alaska Water and Sewer Challenge. The research and development program is searching for better and more affordable methods for safe drinking water and sewage disposal for rural Alaska. While about 75 percent of the state’s small rural villages have running water and sewage systems, around 4,500 homes lack such service. Some communities still use “honey bucket” systems in which toilets collect waste in plastic bags that are disposed of in sewage lagoons.

The teams selected for the next phase are Cowater Alaska, Dowl HKM Alaska, Summit Consulting Services, Tetra Tech, University of Alaska - Anchorage and Lifewater. Each will work with at least two communities from different regions to develop plans, with three selected for funding to develop prototype systems and conduct pilot testing in 2015 and 2016. Those that best meet specific performance criteria will receive additional funding for use and testing in the field. Those that demonstrate sustainable and durable improvements will be refined and deployed using available funding beginning in 2017. 

The DEC says using decentralized water and sewer technology would prevent the need for communitywide utilities. “Each home would have its own stand-alone system, at a lower cost than that associated with piped and truck-haul systems,” it said in announcing the next step in the program. “Although some of the parts for household-based systems are in use today, all the different pieces that would be needed for a rural Alaska home have not been put together. The challenge will be to accomplish this in a way that is affordable and durable over the long run.” There is currently a $660 million shortfall in funding to provide systems statewide.


After discovering several counties had changed their regulations to require NAWT certification for onsite professionals, Colorado Professionals in Onsite Wastewater is offering training for those who need it. At least six counties adopted new regulations in late 2014 that require those who provide operations and maintenance service on high-level onsite treatment systems to have NAWT Operation & Maintenance 1 and 2 certifications. CPOW says the requirement applies to such systems as ATUs, aerators, recirculating filters and disinfection systems. It is working with counties to make sure service providers can continue to serve their customers.


The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is developing procedures for issuing tickets for subsurface sewage treatment system violations. Legislation passed in 2014 allows the civil citations rather than Administrative Penalty Orders that have been used in the past. The change is expected to eliminate some legal paperwork and provide more timely handling of cases. Currently, the MPCA has the authority to issue tickets for violations dealing with underground tanks and solid waste. Implementation is planned for the spring of 2015.

In other news, cities and townships in Minnesota will be surveyed to make sure local ordinances have been updated and that municipalities have the resources to conduct their subsurface sewage treatment system programs. Counties were required to update their ordinances to match new state rules by February 2014. Local municipalities with SSTS programs were given through December 2014 to update their ordinances to match county ordinances. Communities were also sent a fact sheet with updated requirements to continue with their SSTS programs. If they can’t meet the requirements, the responsibility reverts back to the county.

There were 9,120 onsite systems installed across the state in 2013, according to an annual report from the MPCA. Of those, 8,724 were residential systems.

Type 1 systems (inground trenches and beds, above-ground, at-grades and mounds) accounted for 80 percent of the systems (7,362). Mound systems represented about 43 percent of all installations.


The phase-in of new onsite wastewater provisions continues in 2015 in Delaware. Among the regulations that began in January 2014 are time-of-transfer inspections, new inspection protocols and a system to certify homeowners to maintain their own systems.

Regulations that took effect Jan. 1, 2015, include:

  • Elimination of cesspools and seepage pits under certain situations.
  • Required upgrading of all new and replacement systems within 1,000 feet of the Nanticoke River and Broad Creek as part of the multistate Chesapeake Bay cleanup agreement.
  • Statewide performance standards for all innovative and alternative systems.
  • Certification of all concrete system components by the Onsite Wastewater Accreditation Program.

Regulations set to begin Jan. 1, 2016, include requiring waste haulers to report septic tank pumpouts and a new license category for construction inspectors.


Staggering its septic tank reminder notices seems to have worked in Jackson County. Local officials say the number of citations has gone down dramatically, from 300 in 2013 to just 40 in 2014. State law requires homeowners to have systems pumped and inspected every three years. The county used to send notices to all system owners in April and gave them until October to complete the work. It now splits the owners into groups and sends notices four times a year, giving homeowners just 45 days to comply. County officials plan to meet with septic pumpers later this year to get feedback and see if other improvements can be made.

Despite improved compliance, the county issued two hefty fines for violations dating back more than two years. At $25 per day, one property owner was fined $32,766 and another $21,146 for failing to pay for past violations.

New York

Suffolk County awarded free septic systems to 19 families in December 2014 as part of a pilot program to reduce nitrogen from onsite systems and improve local water quality. More than 130 residents applied for the septic lottery and had to meet certain requirements to make sure the property qualified for an onsite system. Winners will receive free installation, monitoring and maintenance for five years and had to agree to host tours and inspections of their systems.

Valued at up to $15,000 each, the systems will be used to test advanced wastewater treatment systems that can be used to reduce pollution on Long Island, an urban area just outside New York City where septic systems are still heavily used; Suffolk County has more than 360,000 homes served by onsite systems.


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