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EPA's Region 6 Office

Serving: Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and 66 Tribal Nations

Decentralized Waste Water Treatment Systems

Program Summary

A decentralized wastewater treatment system (often called a septic system) is an onsite or clustered system used to collect, treat, and disperse and/or reclaim wastewater from a home, small community, or service area. One-quarter of American homes use septic treatment systems, and a third of all new developments in the U.S. use them.

Decentralized systems can work very well, and new technologies offer a range of options that afford very high levels of treatment. But historically, these systems have not always performed at the needed level. Homeowners have had to maintain them without benefit of the information, services or incentives they needed to assure good system performance. So many of these systems are failing, with sewage backing up into homes, ponding in yards, and partially or untreated flows into our waterways. These system failures represent threats to our health through exposure to the pathogens the wastewater carries and threats to water quality when the wastewater enters our rivers, lakes, ground water, and coastal waters.

EPA has developed a strategy to address these problems. Our program strategy sets forth a plan and specific steps, and strategic goals, designed to achieve the necessary levels of management through collaboration with a wide range of partner organizations. EPA’s role in this area is not the usual one we don’t promulgate or enforce rules, and we have no direct regulatory authority in this area. We are promoting a voluntary program that relies on state and local regulators, elected officials, citizens and professionals in the decentralized wastewater industry. EPA will provide national direction and support to improve the performance of Decentralized systems by promoting the concept of perpetual management and facilitating upgraded professional standards of practice.

EPA headquarters is working cooperatively with the EPA regional offices to implement the actions under each of the identified strategic goals. As part of this program, all regions, including Region 6, have developed and have begun implementation of regional Action Plans. Our vision is that decentralized wastewater treatment systems are appropriately managed, perform effectively, protect human health and the environment, and are a key component of our nation’s wastewater infrastructure.

Underground Injection Control

Source Water Protection Branch

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