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A crew at Lamarre Concrete Products, Greenville, N.H., pours concrete for a septic tank.

Precast concrete producers and the onsite wastewater industry have plenty in common. Just look at the numerous business ventures and long-term relationships that exist between precast concrete producers, septic and onsite system designers, installers, service providers, and even suppliers of equipment such as control panels and gaskets.

Together, these two industries play an important role in protecting the nation's water resources and supporting the wastewater infrastructure.

This unique partnership plays out in several venues, and none has been more important in the last five years than their collaborate efforts on the National On-site Wastewater Recycling Association (NOWRA) Model Code. This national project focuses on the core issue both groups face: Regulations are inconsistent and vary from one state to another.

Traditionally, the onsite industry deals with local regulations to obtain permits to install or replace newer systems in states where guidelines are only being applied to conventional systems. Thus, producers face inconsistent regulations applied to septic system designs. How can a precast concrete manufacturer economically create a mold according to one county's installation requirements and then have another county require a different set of specifications?

Concrete with a conscience

Bryan Scheffe of Front Range Precast Concrete in Boulder, Colo., is concerned about this inconsistency. Front Range manufactures FLXX precast concrete watertight tanks and boasts about “concrete with a conscience.”

“Most of the Colorado counties still work with antiquated regulations that are prescriptive-based and are badly in need of a total overhaul,” Scheffe explains. Each county has a different set of requirements, and without uniformity of standards and sizes, it is not only extremely difficult for a precast producer to meet watertightness for the designed system, it is also costly.

Precasters want tougher, but fairer guidlines. If you don't have a watertight septic tank, you cannot have an effective distribution system. A watertight tank is the core of the onsite system. And with water resources protection being a high priority in Colorado, manufacturers cannot afford to produce an inferior product.

Nancy Mayer, president and owner of Mayer Brothers Concrete in Elkridge, Md., also sees the tide slowly changing with the water tightness issue. The effect of this change is that today, low-cost concrete producers cannot guarantee a quality product. These companies will no longer be able to compete in the marketplace with more regulators interested in the topic of “watertightness.” Having a watertight tank is imperative with advance treatment systems.

Lessons learned

What are the lessons for precast concrete producers? The collaborative energies of these two industries to change regulations and codes to a more performance-based process and to produce quality products is working but needs to continue. To do so, both segments must agree on standards of practice, education, and training of practitioners.

Perhaps one of the more essential messages is that the two industries support each other. This will ensure that:

  • quality materials are used in the production process;
  • quality practices occur. Managers should clear details and instructions for plant personnel, as well as provide training and an understanding of the importance of the specific production practices;
  • verification of water-tightness is in place in the production process. Are checks occurring with vacuum or water testing? ASTM 1227 outlines both steps.

One way to ensure quality is through certification. “The certification process makes you look at things you would otherwise forget on a regular basis,” says Mayer. “It is a lot of paperwork, but if you don't fill out those forms, you forget to do it. It's just human nature.”

More information about the NOWRA Model Code can be found on its special NOWRA Web site at www.modelcode.com. NOWRA is also conducting a series of workshops to educate regulators on how to change their codes. Visit www.precast.org for information on plant certification.

Dr. Linda Hanifin Bonner is the executive director of NOWRA, the largest national water quality organization, representing members of the onsite and decentralized wastewater industry, comprising more than 6000 professionals. Before joining NOWRA, Hanifin Bonner was a professional environmental management consultant. Visitwww.nowra.org.