Summary of RI Municipal Onsite Wastewater Programs, September 2014 (RIDEM document)
In order to better protect water resources, which include not only drinking water supplies but also recreational areas that often drive local Rhode Island economies, towns must adopt a broad perspective of wastewater management. That includes looking beyond the wastewater treatment and dispersal capacity of individual lots in order to consider the level of wastewater treatment needed at the community level.
The suggestions offered in the wastewater management section of this website are based on the research conducted and experience gained during a project known as the Block Island Green Hill Pond Watershed Project. That project ushered in a new era of wastewater management in Rhode Island that showcased the importance and success of community-level management.
Creating a wastewater management program can seem overwhelming, but there are different approaches that can allow communities to build a program slowly over time, even with limited staff.
Mandatory Inspection and Maintenance for I&A Systems Only
Innovative and alternative (I&A) onsite wastewater treatment technologies are being installed in most RI communities. One approach to beginning a wastewater management program could be to start with tracking the operation, maintenance, and service events of these types of systems first.
Voluntary Inspection Program with Mandatory Pumping
Communities that do not have the ability to develop a mandatory inspection and maintenance program can still build an effective voluntary program. A voluntary program replies on strong advertising and public education. Property owners who regularly maintain their system would be urged to submit documentation to the town. Some communities have added a mandatory pumping program to their voluntary inspections, requiring residents to pump their systems every three to five years and submit documentation to the town.
Advocating For A Program
An advocate must push for the initial plan and ordinance to be written, but need not be the same person who will run and manage the program. An advocate could be a hired consultant who retains a grant to write such a plan, the Town Planner, an environmental lobbyist, or the Public Works Director. It should be someone who is committed to the issue of managing wastewater in your community.
Some communities initially begin with a board of town officials or volunteers running the wastewater program, but this changes over time. As staff are hired, the board will take on more of an advisory role. Staff might include the Town Planner, a designated wastewater specialist, or a Public Works employee.