Pumpers should drive home the point to customers, neighbors and local government that we’re all responsible for disposal of human waste.
It’s a common refrain pumpers hear from the public when it comes to land application of septage — not in my backyard!
As metropolitan areas grow past established suburban boundaries, the big pipe of municipal sewer usually stops well short of the creep of people who want to build dream-home estates in the countryside.
When it comes time to build and the only feasible way to deal with wastewater is an onsite septic system, these homesteaders are happy to have a private treatment alternative. But then, right after the picket fence goes up and they invite their new neighbors over for a cookout, their interest in dealing with wastewater comes to an end.
The new rural residents don’t want to see, smell or hear any evidence that septic tanks are being pumped and their contents are being disposed of. They help create the waste stream, but they’d be happy if pumpers could wave a magic suction hose and make it all disappear from their new neighborhood.
But you and I know it’s not that simple.
THREATS TO LAND SPREADING
The wastewater industry needs to find practical ways to dispose of the septic sludges, both from a cost and environmental standpoint. Many times land application turns out to be the most economical and viable way to dispose of the waste. It saves on fuel costs, reduces the carbon footprint, puts nutrients on the farm fields and returns water to the local aquifer.
But no matter how much good, common sense it makes to spread septage close to its source, you won’t find many folks willing to accept that the waste is their problem and they need to cooperate for a local disposal solution. It happens all the time: A recent example is in Ravalli County, Montana, where residents were up in arms over a pumper applying for a legal land application permit.
As reported in the Bitterroot Star newspaper, Eckert’s Patriot Pumping in Stevensville, Montana, wanted to spread on a 160-acre farm. When the permit was discussed by the county Board of Health, applicant Conrad Eckert explained he was pursuing land application to remain competitive with other pumpers in the area rather than paying triple the cost of taking all his loads to a treatment plant. A Health Board member explained maximum dumping on the site would be 100 loads and 300,000 gallons over a six-month period.
Neighboring landowners predictably opposed a land-application permit, citing concerns over impacts on groundwater, pets and wildlife, as well as odors and wear and tear on the roads surrounding the application site. They brought forward a myriad of arguments in hopes that one might stick.
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality, however, was clear in its support of land spreading in an environmental assessment published in the paper.
A GOOD IDEA
“When properly managed, septage is a resource. When used as a soil conditioner, septage contains nutrients that can reduce reliance on chemical fertilizers for agriculture. A properly managed land-application program recognizes the benefits of septage and employs practices to maximize the value of the material. Land application of septage benefits agricultural land by the addition of moisture, organic matter and nutrients to the soil, and does not adversely affect public health.”
Despite the DEQ findings, the discussion was ongoing earlier this year. Like the Montana DEQ stands, some states encourage and support the use of land application of septage, while others restrict, discourage or ban the practice. It appears that spreading will be a tool in the disposal arsenal of pumpers in many areas for years to come, but it also seems likely that as suburban and rural dwellers continue to clash over the issue, there will remain a constant threat to the future of the practice.
How should pumpers react to this ongoing debate? If land spreading is a viable option for your business, promote the message shared in the Montana DEQ environmental assessment. If your state allows land application, support the pumpers who can take advantage of such a program. Encourage your state wastewater association to speak out in favor of reasonable use of land application. If done responsibly, spreading can help serve the environment and free up treatment plant capacity for those pumpers who are not in a position to spread on land.
Furthermore, make sure consumers and your customers know that any economical way to dispose of waste keeps their pumping costs down. And explain to them that everyone contributes to the waste stream, and so everyone is responsible to find safe and efficient ways to recycle those wastes. We’re all in this together.
MEET THE CHALLENGE
Whether you spread waste, dump at a treatment plant or are looking for new, creative solutions to disposal challenges, this issue of Pumper is devoted to you. Our Product Focus feature covers the topic of septage disposal management and highlights a wide range of equipment, including dewatering technologies, storage tanks and roll-off containers, that could help pumpers meet their disposal demands.
The challenges facing today’s decentralized wastewater industry are many. Millions of septic systems are woefully in need of pumping and maintenance. Millions more are outdated and in need of replacement. A burgeoning housing market is creating demand to add many more onsite systems as cities flex and grow. At the same time, treatment plants across the country are reaching capacity and local governments are often unwilling to expand or take on more septage.
This may seem like a big problem, but rather it is an exciting opportunity for the pumping profession. Our industry must answer the call and find solutions to all of these growing issues. That means pursuing land application where it makes economic and environmental sense. It means looking into private plants — either serving individual pumpers or groups of haulers who come together as partners — to relieve some of the pressure at municipal plants.
In short, pumpers have a chance to better control their own destiny in business and serve the public good. After all, we all create the waste, so we all have a responsibility to take care of it.