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Septic Systems

Septic Systems Case Studies and Demonstration Projects

On this page:

Case Studies

Case studies help community planners, elected officials, health department staff, state officials, and interested citizens explore alternatives for managing their decentralized wastewater treatment systems.

The examples on this page are compiled into a compendium that shows how local programs use various treatment technologies, from simple septic systems to advanced treatment clustered units, to address community needs.

The case studies are grouped into five models of decentralized wastewater system management by local communities:

Homeowner Awareness

Many homeowner awareness programs operate across the country. The most successful ones involve homeowners and support system maintenance by the homeowner, such as checking septic tank sludge levels.

Maintenance Contract

These programs target areas at higher risk of environmental degradation due to higher system densities, more complex treatment technology maintenance, or other factors. The most effective programs ensure that maintenance contracts are kept current and implemented properly.

Operating Permits

These programs often reward good system performance with extended permit renewal terms while requiring shorter permit lengths and more frequent inspections for owners with poorly performing systems.

Responsible Management Entity (RME) Operation and Maintenance

RME Operation and Maintenance is best used in areas with high environmental risk and a need for professional oversight to ensure consistent system operation and maintenance.

Responsible Management Entity (RME) Ownership

RME Ownership takes decentralized wastewater management to a high level of accountability. The RME serves as owner and manager of the onsite wastewater systems. Instead of the homeowner, the management entity takes responsibility for operation and maintenance and for scheduling needed repairs or service.

EPA has invested over $35 million in more than 25 states for wastewater demonstration projects that highlight decentralized technologies, management programs, and education and training programs. These projects received funds through three EPA-sponsored programs:

  • National Onsite Demonstration Project (NODP) - The NODP demonstrates the use of alternative, onsite wastewater treatment technologies to protect public health, ensure water quality and sustain the environment in small and rural communities. It was funded through the EPA and is directed by the National Environmental Services Center at West Virginia University Exit.
  • National Community Decentralized Wastewater Demonstration Project - This project is funded by congressional appropriations and targets communities to demonstrate decentralized technologies and management. Community work supported by the program spans a full range from environmental assessments, establishment of treatment system performance requirements, and system design. It also includes installation, operation, maintenance, and monitoring. Links to the final report for each community's project are listed below.
  • Decentralized Water Resources Collaborative Exit - The collaborative, formerly known as the National Decentralized Water Resources Capacity Development Project, conducts research and provides outreach to help communities understand onsite/decentralized wastewater treatment alternatives. The project is now managed by the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF) and other partner organizations.
Projects funded by these programs are shown below in the section on Demonstration Projects.

Demonstration Projects

National Projects

Valuing Decentralized Wastewater Technologies Report
This report presents information and techniques to help communities save financial resources and improve infrastructure planning and decision making through analysis of technological options. Users can make better qualitative and quantitative economic comparisons between centralized and decentralized wastewater system options and learn the economic advantages and disadvantages of decentralized wastewater systems relative to larger-scale, centralized systems.
Amory B. Lovins
Jeremy Magliaro
Rocky Mountain Institute
(970) 927-3851

Certified Installer of Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Credential Program 
The National Environmental Health Association has worked with various partner groups to develop a national credential program to certify installers of onsite wastewater treatment systems. The credential tests the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for installing an onsite wastewater treatment system, covers all forms of installation, and is offered at a basic and advanced level. This credential enhances state or local regulatory programs and encompasses a national credential, not state and local codes.
Credentialing Coordinator (
(303) 756-9090 x339

Decentralized Water Resources Collaborative Exit
This group conducts research and provides outreach to improve science, technology, economics, and management that ensures decentralized wastewater systems meet critical environmental and public health challenges.
Jeff C. Moeller, P.E. (
Senior Program Director
(571) 384-2104

State Projects, Listed in State Order

Alabama - Mobile: Cluster Systems and Water Reuse
In Mobile, Alabama, untreated wastewater is removed from overloaded municipal sewers (known as "sewer mining") for decentralized wastewater treatment and then reused to irrigate a city park. This project uses four different cluster decentralized technologies to determine performance and operational requirements. It demonstrates how decentralized alternatives can allow for the extension of overloaded municipal sewers. The Mobile Area Water and Sewer System’s management of these low-cost sewer and cluster treatment facilities has enabled planned growth in areas east of the city.
W. Malcolm Steeves (
Mobile Area Water & Sewer Systems
(334) 694-3152
More information: Integration of Decentralized Wastewater Management Concepts into an Urban "Centralized" Infrastructure in Mobile, Alabama
MASS Our Water System Exit

California - San Francisco: Alternative Technologies
This project evaluates the process known as sewer mining using alternative decentralized technologies to relieve wastewater overloading in the sewers of eastern San Francisco and avoid costly centralized sewer expansion.
City and County of San Francisco, Public Utilities Commission
(415) 558-4022

California - Paradise: Decentralized Management Program
Paradise, California created an onsite management zone and set up a program that requires operating permits for all new and existing systems. The town adopted design criteria, including special regulations for large systems and innovative systems, set up variance and enforcement procedures, and established a surface water monitoring program. Paradise also established a program for initial and periodic operational evaluation of all onsite systems by private evaluators.
National Small Flows Clearinghouse
(800) 624-8301
Wes Greenwood
Butte County Health Department
(916) 872-6293
More information: National Environmental Services Center Exit
Pipeline Newsletter Spring 1996 (PDF) (8 pp, 179 K, About PDF) Exit

California – Water and Wastewater Treatment Technologies Appropriate for Reuse (WAWTTAR) Cost-estimating Program
This project produced a tool for planning and implementing water and wastewater treatment systems, including treatment systems using wastewater effluent reuse. The cost-estimating program is used at the pre-feasibility step in facility planning or infrastructure investment. The program has a database of more than 200 water and wastewater alternative technologies and treatment processes, conventional decentralized water and wastewater treatment processes, and collection systems.
Brad Finny (
Humboldt University
(707) 826- 3918
More information: WAWTTAR Exit

California: Model Code for Local Governments
This project promotes the adoption and implementation of a statewide decentralized wastewater management program in California through the development of a model Memorandum of Understanding between local and state agencies, guidelines and funding options for local sanitary surveys, and establishing a California onsite or decentralized systems website.
Justin Malan (
California Association of Environmental Health Administrators
(916) 944-7315

Florida - Florida Keys: Alternative Technologies
The Florida Keys Onsite Wastewater Nutrient Reduction System Demonstration Project shows the use and capability of alternative wastewater technologies (AWT). Ten alternative onsite technologies using wastewater from a prison facility on Big Pine Key were tested. The systems' ability to meet Florida’s AWT standards for nitrogen and phosphorus (3 mg/L and 1 mg/L, respectively) was evaluated. Phase II of the demonstration project combines advanced technologies and management in an innovative approach as a model for the Florida Keys.
Damann Anderson (
(813) 558-3302
Bob Freeman (
(404) 562-9244
Jim Reynolds (
Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority
(305) 296-2454
More information: Florida Department of Health Onsite Sewage Programs Research Reports Exit

Florida: Decentralized Management Programs
This project evaluated the potential to implement EPA's Voluntary Guidelines in three Florida counties, serving as a model for the rest of the state.
Florida Onsite Wastewater Association (
(407) 830-4381
More information: Implementation of EPA Voluntary National Guidelines

Georgia - Lake Lanier: Alternative Technologies
This project demonstrates a decentralized approach, including management and technologies, in southeastern states, especially in Appalachia.
National Small Flows Clearinghouse
(800) 624-8301
Dan Skalsky
(770) 673-3610

Illinois: Management Program at the Department of Public Health
This project facilitated the adoption of the operating permit management program from EPA's Voluntary National Guidelines for Management of Onsite and Clustered (Decentralized) Wastewater Treatment Systems in Illinois through operating permits under the Private Sewage Disposal Licensing Act and Code.
Illinois Department of Public Health
(217) 782-5830

Kentucky - Preston: Decentralized Management Program
This project developed a decentralized community management program using septic tank effluent gravity collection along with a 30,000 gallon per day treatment and disposal system and management district.
National Small Flows Clearinghouse
(800) 624-8301

Maryland - Anne Arundel County: Alternative Systems
The study was performed in the Chesapeake Bay area, a region where environmental and site constraints favored the use of alternative and decentralized wastewater technologies according to Phase I of the National Onsite Demonstration Program. Nitrogen and pathogen contaminants, shallow water table, small lots, and tight soils jeopardize the quality of water in the Chesapeake Bay. This demonstration project installed 12 alternative systems including recirculating expanded shale filters, recirculating sand filters, peat filter, aerobic treatment units, synthetic foam biofilter and disposal through gravel-less trench, shallow trenches, drip irrigation, and soil expansion treatment (Terra-lift) to evaluate the water quality in this area.
David Pask
National Small Flows Clearinghouse
(800) 624-8301

Maryland: Decentralized Management Program
This project consists of mitigating the effect that onsite systems have on the waters of Maryland and removing the barriers to implementing decentralized means of waste disposal. There are two simultaneous phases of the project: developing a regulatory package to implement management consistent with EPA's guidelines and developing and implementing a certification program to certify operators of onsite systems.
Jay Prager (
Deputy Program Manager, Wastewater Permits Program
(410) 537-3780
More information: Chesapeake Bay Program Exit

Massachusetts - North Gloucester: Alternative Technologies
Four alternative technologies were installed, including foam biofilters; recirculating trickling filters; intermittent sand filters; and disposal by pressure-dosed sand-lined trenches, shallow trenches, and shallow gravel-less trenches.
National Small Flows Clearinghouse
(800) 624-8301

Massachusetts - Waquoit Bay: Risk Assessment
A watershed ecological risk assessment of Waquoit Bay, on the south coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, was performed for watershed managers to better understand the environmental effects of human activities. A nitrogen loading model was used to estimate the amount and sources of nitrogen entering the watershed. An estuarine loading model was used to estimate the nitrogen available for nuisance algae growth in shallow estuaries.
Patti Tyler
(617) 860-4342
More information: Waquoit Bay Watershed Ecological Risk Assessment 

Michigan – Benzie County: Alternative Technologies
Part of phase I of the National Onsite Demonstration Project. Benzie County, Michagan installed seven alternative and decentralized systems.
David Pask
National Small Flows Clearinghouse
(800) 624-8301
Ted Loudon (
Michigan State University
(517) 353-8982
More information: Crystal Lake and Watershed Association Zoning and Land Use Exit

Minnesota: Model Code Framework
This project developed a performance-based model code framework for onsite wastewater systems. The model code and guidance manual were developed for implementation in several counties, which serve as a model for the entire state.
Barbara McCarthy
Natural Resources Research Institute, University of Minnesota-Duluth
(218) 720-4322

Missouri – Rockbridge: Alternative Technologies
This is a demonstration of five innovative/alternative technologies that protect ecological and water quality in an environmentally sensitive karst terrain.
National Small Flows Clearinghouse
(800) 624-8301
Dennis Sievers
University of Missouri
(573) 882-7855

Missouri – Table Rock Lake: RME Management Program
The project developed the legal framework for long-term operation and management of all advanced systems installed under this project and throughout the region. The project used EPA's manual on management of onsite treatment systems and develop specific guidelines for organizations managing the project and any subsequent systems. The project proposed modifications to the current Stone County ordinance to develop an onsite management district.
David Casaletto
Executive Director
Table Rock Lake Water Quality Inc.
(417) 739-4100
More information: Table Rock Lake Water Quality Decentralized Wastewater Demonstration Project Final Technical Report

New Mexico: Decentralized Management Program
This project develops a legal framework, model regulations, and an implementation plan that can be used throughout New Mexico for decentralized wastewater projects. It includes model regulations for management districts, education and public involvement components, and ways to implement the management program in a community in New Mexico.
Richard P. Rose
Construction Programs Bureau, New Mexico Environment Department
(505) 827-9691
More information: Decentralized Wastewater Management Pena Blanca Case Study

New York: Onsite Wastewater Treatment Association: Alternative Technologies
This project is part of Phase 5 of the National Onsite Demonstration Project, and demonstrates a decentralized approach that includes management and technologies.
Clement Solomon
National Small Flows Clearinghouse
(800) 624-8301

New York – Skaneateles: Watershed Management
This project demonstrates a watershed approach to onsite system management by coordinating the five townships and three counties comprising the Skaneateles Lake Watershed.
Eric Murdock
City of Syracuse Dept. of Water
(315) 473-2629
More information: Skaneateles Lake, New York Demonstration Project Study Report

New York – Tioga County: Geographic Information System (GIS) and Database Systems at the County Planning Department
The project uses GPS to pinpoint septic system locations from nearly 100 residences with Candor’s real property database in a GIS. Pertinent septic system information was also collected from the homeowner. The end result created a comprehensive map of local septic systems and their type, size, etc.
Elaine Jardine (
Tioga County Department of Economic Development and Planning
(607) 687-8255

North Carolina – Northeast Counties: Alternative Technologies
This project expands an existing onsite system management district to address alternative onsite technologies and expand public education efforts in Pasquotank, Perquimans, Chowan, Camden, Washington, Tyrrell, Hertford, Gates, and Currituck Counties.
Ralph Hollowell
(252) 338-4400

Oregon – La Pine: Nitrogen Removal
This project demonstrates innovative nitrogen removal technologies. Through understanding of ground water flow, nitrate fate and transport assessment it determines the appropriate development density through lot size optimization modeling. The project also offers assistance to the community in developing local ordinances and a management program.
Deschutes County
(541) 388-6570
More information: La Pine Nitrogen Removal Project Report

Pennsylvania – Centerville: Cluster Systems
Centerville's wastewater treatment methods were assessed to reduce pollution in the watershed. The project initially demonstrated one alternative cluster system and evolved into comprehensive planning for wastewater treatment and management for the entire town.
National Small Flows Clearinghouse
(800) 624-830
Southern Alleghenies Resource Conservation and Development District
(814) 623-7900
More information: Small Flows Magazine, Spring 2001 Issue (PDF) (27 pp, 2.3 MB, About PDF)Exit

Rhode Island – Chepachet Village: Alternative Technologies
Five alternative technologies were installed as part of the Chepachet Village demonstration project. The demonstration systems range from 600 to 2,700 gallon per day (gpd) systems and serve various buildings including retail space, apartments, a private cottage, a restaurant, and a small commercial block with mixed retail and office building use.
Lorraine Joubert (
Cooperative Extension Service, University of Rhode Island
(401) 874-2138
George Loomis (
Cooperative Extension Service, University of Rhode Island
(401) 864-4558
More information: Chepachet Village Decentralized Wastewater Demonstration Project Report Exit

Rhode Island – Green Hill Pond and Block Island: GIS and Database Systems
This project was a joint effort by three Rhode Island communities—New Shoreham, South Kingstown and Charlestown—in partnership with the University of Rhode Island’s Cooperative Extension Water Quality Program. The project established comprehensive local wastewater management programs in each community using a watershed approach with selective use of advanced treatment systems in high risk areas to protect critical ground water supplies and sensitive coastal waters.
Lorraine Joubert (
Cooperative Extension Service, University of Rhode Island
(401) 874-2138
More information: Final Summary Report: Block Island and Green Hill Pond Watershed Demonstration Project

Texas – Lower Rio Grande Valley:
This project consists of building home demonstration cluster treatment systems in six counties of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. The project demonstrates wastewater treatment implementation at a cost savings of at least 40 percent using RME management processes and self-help methodologies that can serve as models for other colonias. The project creates capacity and advocacy among all stakeholders for cluster treatment for colonias and other communities, and demonstrates innovative technologies for reusing treated wastewater.
The Rensselaerville Institute
(518) 797-3783

Vermont: Alternative Technologies
This project involved both monitoring of existing alternative systems in Addison County and an action plan for establishing a management district for the town of Warren. The project included education and technical assistance for the 21-village region in Windham area, implementation of the management program for the town of Jericho, model management plans developed by the State Housing Authority, and installation of two alternative systems.
National Small Flows Clearinghouse
(800) 624-8301
Peg Elmer
Vermont Department of Housing and Community Affairs
(802) 828-2928
More information: Small Flows Quarterly, Winter 2000 Issue 1, Volume 1 (60 pp, 2.3 MB, About PDF)Exit

Vermont – Warren: Alternatives to Centralized Sewers
This project created a comprehensive Geographic Information System (GIS) to integrate field assessment data. The decentralized wastewater needs assessment focused on maintaining existing suitable systems, identifying replacement system solutions as close to the wastewater generating property as possible, and establishing a community wastewater management program. A major portion of the plan involved stakeholder collaboration in a comparison between alternative systems versus taking no action.
Mary K. Clark
Stone Environmental, Inc.
(802) 496-2709
More information: Warren, Vermont: A Different Approach For Managing Wastewater in Rural Villages Report

Virginia - Department of Public Health
This project investigated the effectiveness of a performance-based regulatory framework. Performance monitoring of wastewater systems includes monitoring of effluent quality before discharge and the quality of surface water. This project also involves monitoring operations and performance of the mechanical components.
Anish Jantrania (
Virginia Department of Health
(804) 864-7457
More information: Virginia Department of Public Health, Onsite Sewage and Water Services Exit

Virginia – West Point: Ephesus Baptist Church Education and Training
This project consisted of developing and implementing an onsite wastewater treatment education and citizen training model program for minority and indigent people. The project improved decentralized (septic) system knowledge within the community and made local health departments aware of their wastewater needs.
Rana Graham
(804) 512-3120 or (804) 640-8545
More information: The National Model for Minority Education and Training Demonstration (NMMETD) Case Study

Virginia – Wise County: Guest River Watershed Cluster Systems
With a combination of national funds, local funds and in-kind contributions, the watershed community has completed a cluster system consisting of new septic systems (two households per 1,500-gallon tank), small-diameter sewers, and a cluster treatment system consisting of a recirculation textile filter and a community drainfield. Approximate cost, including in-kind worth, per household was $7,000. The municipal sewer utility manages the system in the town of Appalachia.
National Small Flows Clearinghouse
(800) 624-8301
More information: National Academies Press Article Exit

Washington – Burnett: Risk Assessment
This project installed and monitored 14 new onsite systems that range from basic to advanced technology that were selected through a risk assessment process.
National Small Flows Clearinghouse
(800) 624-8301
Washington State Onsite Association
(253) 297-2837
More information: “Demonstration of Innovative Treatment and Disposal System in Former Coal-Mining Town of Burnett, Washington” on Smart About Water Products Exit

West Virginia – Monongalia County: Alternative Technologies
This project installed six alternative wastewater technologies in a county park including a recirculating sand filter, constructed wetlands, a home aerobic unit, and a disk filter. Alternative soil-dispersal systems included gravelless trenches, contour trenches, chambers, drip irrigation, and low-pressure pipes. The installations provided a source of public education, with prominent displays intended for use by the public, students, and practitioners in training programs.
National Small Flows Clearinghouse
(800) 624-8301
Monongalia County Health Department
(304) 598-5145

West Virginia – Lincoln County: Decentralized Management Program on the Mud River
Through extensive volunteer participation in sampling, this project identified contamination hot spots using fecal-source typing to distinguish onsite septic system inputs from wildlife and other sources. It developed an onsite wastewater treatment and management program to address contamination of the Mud River to preclude the need for a formal TMDL or provide a model for how onsite systems can be managed in the context of a TMDL.
Lawrence S. Cote (
West Virginia University Cooperative Extension Service
(304) 293-5691
More information: Mud River Alternative Wastewater Demonstration Project Final Report 

West Virginia - Shepherdstown: Alternative Technologies
This project designed and installed a wastewater system with alternative technologies for a new research and office building to prevent nutrient and fecal contamination of an artesian well. The project included two secondary treatment technologies: a peat filter and a recirculating sand filter, and a real-time monitoring system.
National Small Flows Clearinghouse
(800) 624-8301

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