Partners come together to support responsible management of private onsite wastewater systems
For rural homeowners, private onsite wastewater systems (septic systems) are often the only option for treating their household wastewater. How these systems are used, and the decisions homeowners make about how to manage and maintain their septic systems have the potential to have a significant cumulative effect on the Alberta landscape, the environment and our water resources.
The potential for operation issues or failures increases without routine maintenance. These failures can result in contamination of surface water and groundwater, and also pose a health risk to people and animals exposed to untreated wastewater.
Unfortunately, landowners in Alberta have not always had access to the information, resources and support that can help them responsibly manage their systems. So, in early 2015, Land Stewardship Centre (LSC), in partnership with Alberta Onsite Wastewater Management Association (AOWMA) launched Septic Sense, an onsite wastewater system education and outreach pilot program for landowners in Alberta.
“Surface water contamination from poorly managed and maintained septic systems can be an issue, especially around more developed recreational lakes. The Septic Sense pilot program is a proactive, collaborative approach to educating landowners, and helping them properly manage and maintain their septic systems can help address this concern,” says Amrita Grewal, Program Research Coordinator with LSC.
This multi-agency initiative is being rolled out as a one-year pilot project in order to implement, test and evaluate the feasibility of developing a full-fledged septic system operation and maintenance workshop program in Alberta. LSC and AOWMA have engaged representatives from government, municipalities and industry to serve on a Steering Committee and provide oversight for the pilot program. Alberta Municipal Affairs, Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, Agriculture and Rural Development, in addition to the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties (AAMDC) and the Association of Summer Villages of Alberta (ASVA), have all been approached to join the Steering Committee.
Similar in format and style, and an excellent complement to the province’s long-standing Working Well program (www.workingwell.alberta.ca), the Septic Sense pilot program will offer a range of educational opportunities and resource materials for landowners, including a workshop and a homeowner’s guide developed by wastewater management experts that covers various types of septic systems and ways to cost-effectively maintain septic system. Program information will include an overview of the relevant legislation governing onsite wastewater systems and stress the importance of having licensed contractors design and install systems to ensure they meet all guidelines and requirements. Appropriate use and maintenance of septic systems, and a troubleshooting guide that addresses common issues and questions will also be included.
The response from municipalities and other organizations for this type of program has been extremely positive, and many have expressed how useful such a program will be to landowners.