NOWRA Makes Progress in Gaining Greater Congressional Support for Onsite Industry

NOWRA’s Legislative Fly-In results in the achievement of a key goal: establishment of a Congressional Decentralized Wastewater Caucus
NOWRA Makes Progress in Gaining Greater Congressional Support for Onsite Industry
More than a dozen NOWRA members traveled to Washington, D.C., June 14-15, 2016 to participate in the association’s Legislative Fly-In. From left: Jay Dolby of Dolby & Associates (Delaware), Leah Shen, Aide to Sen. Chris Coons (D-Dela.), Bruce Stowe of Roth Global Plastics (N.Y.), Tracy Hammond of Polsinelli, LLC (NOWRA’s lobbying firm), and Jackie Book of Dolby & Associates.

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More than a dozen NOWRA members traveled to Washington, D.C., June 14-15, 2016, to participate in the association’s Legislative Fly-In, and made significant progress in advancing its advocacy goals.

The most significant achievement that arose from more than three dozen visits to congressional and federal agency offices was securing a bipartisan commitment to establish a Decentralized Wastewater Caucus. Further, two members of the influential House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment immediately committed to joining the caucus during NOWRA members’ visits with them.

NOWRA Executive Director Eric Casey participated in the Fly-In. "Establishing a Decentralized Wastewater Caucus in the House of Representatives is a really significant milestone," Casey says. "It provides our industry with access to members who not only support onsite/decentralized wastewater, but who we can approach to help advance our goals of growing the market for onsite systems, increasing the share of federal funding our industry receives, and establishing policies at the federal agency level which don’t discriminate against our industry." 

In addition, NOWRA learned that language it requested be included in the House Appropriations Bill was voted out of committee and included in the legislation which goes to the full House for approval. The language directs the EPA to devote more financial and staff resources to assist the 85 million Americans who use onsite/decentralized treatment. Also, NOWRA representatives met with officials from USDA Rural Development and secured a commitment to help educate industry professionals about how they can assist communities to better understand the benefits of onsite treatment when they are making wastewater infrastructure decisions.

NOWRA is seeking to secure greater congressional support for onsite wastewater treatment because it offers a host of economic, environmental and public health benefits to communities around the country, but has not received adequate support from either Congress or the federal agencies that have mandates to address issues facing the onsite industry.

For too long, NOWRA maintains that the onsite industry has been overlooked by Congress and federal regulators. For example, in the last 30 years, municipal treatment works have received $100 billion in grants and loans from EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund Program to address wastewater treatment problems, 99.7 percent of which has gone to fix sewer systems. Over that same period, funding support for onsite wastewater treatment has been less than 1 percent of that amount – even though onsite systems serve more than 25 percent of properties around the country. The 85 million taxpayers served by onsite systems deserve better, as do the industry’s dedicated professionals.

The industry faces a set of challenges nearly identical to those faced by public wastewater utilities – aging infrastructure, compliance with new anti-pollution mandates, inconsistent regulation, economic constraints, and a need for more qualified practitioners. However, the industry has been told – repeatedly – to go it alone. NOWRA believes the intent of Congress when it passed the Clean Water Act was to ensure clean water for all Americans, not just those served by public wastewater utilities. However, for more than three decades, federal funding and policies have virtually ignored Americans served by decentralized treatment.

The NOWRA Legislative Fly-In scored a big win, right before it began, when a bipartisan commitment to establish a Decentralized Wastewater Caucus was confirmed. It will be cosponsored by Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo. Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment, agreed to join the caucus as its first new member. Another member of that influential committee, Rep. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., also agreed to join the caucus. 

NOWRA will be reaching out to other members of the House to get them to join, and is encouraging its members to do so as well. The value of the caucus is that the industry has a place where House members can say, "We support the use of onsite/decentralized wastewater treatment." This group of elected representatives can help advance the goals of the onsite wastewater industry by introducing legislation, holding hearings, writing letters to federal agencies with which we do business, asking the GAO to study issues of importance to the decentralized wastewater industry, and much more.

During the NOWRA meeting with USDA Rural Development, an offer was made to hold a webinar for NOWRA members on how to secure grants for preliminary assessments of small communities looking to make wastewater infrastructure decisions. NOWRA will continue to work with its contacts within USDA Rural Development to increase access to available USDA funding mechanisms for onsite wastewater systems.

The stakeholders for public wastewater utilities are well organized, well funded and well known in Washington. NOWRA’s advocacy efforts are intended to help level the playing field so that the onsite community is able to get more equitable treatment in terms getting greater access to federal funding, changing policies which discriminate against onsite treatment, addressing the infrastructure challenges our industry faces, and expanding the use of onsite treatment around the country. It believes this is an issue where as many industry professionals as possible need to be engaged in this process.

NOWRA was pleased that a number of members who had not previously been involved in its advocacy efforts took the time to come to Washington to participate in the Fly-In. Those participants reported that they found their efforts rewarding and most came away believing that it is possible to change the current situation. One participant, Nancy Mayer, owner of Mayer Brothers Inc., in Elkridge, Maryland, put it this way: “I had a great time and now ‘get’ the whole lobbying thing … and do think we can make a difference.”

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