What are RI Towns Doing?
Block Island
South Kingstown

The BIGHP Project

RIWIS (Rhode Island Wastewater Information System)

Onsite Systems Basics
Onsite treatment systems
Property owner's guide

Wastewater Manager's Toolkit
Creating a management plan
Drafting an ordinance
Developing treatment standards
Funding and staffing a program
Getting the message out
Tracking inspections
Achieving results

Onsite System Research and Assessment
Demonstration systems
Soil suitability
Using GIS for evaluation
Water quality monitoring

Training and technical support

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Drafting an Ordinance


Overview of a Wastewater Management Ordinance:

A typical ordinance contains the following basic elements: program administration – who is in charge of the wastewater management program, specifics about an inspection program – who can perform inspections, schedule for inspections, requirements for replacement and new systems and septic tanks, requirements for I and A systems, pumping requirements, details of phasing in an inspection program, cesspool phase out schedule, and enforcement. Initially, it may be best to keep it simple and limit the ordinance to inspection schedules, pumping systems as needed, and possibly phasing out cesspools. As the program gets established and accepted, you can add additional requirements. Factors to consider prior to developing an ordinance at all include: how to staff the program, whether to phase in an inspection program over several years, and what is the septage capacity of local sewage treatment plants.


Components of a Wastewater Management Ordinance:
What to consider when writing a wastewater management ordinance

A Wastewater Management Ordinance is the foundation for administration and enforcement of the town wastewater management program. There are many decisions that will need to be made. A selection of these important decisions are outlined below:

Component #1: Purpose

This section of the ordinance explains the importance of regulating onsite sewage disposal systems. Until recently, most towns have been faced with two very different choices for wastewater management: central collection and treatment of wastewater, carefully controlled ad monitored by sewer districts vs. totally managed individual systems with maintenance completely up to the homeowner. Centralized collection systems are not feasible for all communities, for both environmental and economical reasons. Onsite technologies are now recognized to be a cost effective and, by maintaining groundwater recharge, an environmentally sound treatment option. This is true only when systems are properly designed, installed, used, and maintained. For this reason, most towns are writing a wastewater management ordinance and adopting wastewater management districts.

Component #2: Administration

A wastewater management ordinance typically describes what town department, board, or position will be responsible for the day to day management of the WWM Program. Typically the public works department is responsible for the management with oversight from conservation commissions and town planning boards.

Component #3: Design and Construction Requirements

This section of the wastewater management ordinance often explains town implemented regulations that impact the design and construction of all new ISDS located in the town. Often times these regulations are more stringent than current state regulations. Some of the items address here include: Access Risers and Effluent Filters, Watertight Septic Tanks, and Septic Tank Sizing.

Component #4: Inspections, Monitoring, Operation, Maintenance and Enforcement

This is the largest section of the wastewater management ordinance. It encompasses the requirements for the nuts and bolts of a town management program. Specifically, this section lays out who can perform ISDS inspections, defines different types of inspections, and explains what type of maintenance is required on each system type or in each district. For Example, a critical resource area may have strict inspection, maintenance, and monitoring requirements, where a non-critical area may be regulated by a pumping requirement.

Enforcement is also a big part of the wastewater management ordinance. This is where the town sets regulations and timelines for program compliance, and replacement of failed / substandard systems. Homeowners are also entitled to proper review, hearing, and appeal processes.

Component #5: Record Keeping, Inventory and Reporting

This section of the ordinance, establishes the need for proper tracking and record keeping. The information gathered in the inspection and inventory process is valuable information and the town is responsible for collecting, tracking, analyzing and reporting the results.

Component #6: Financial Assistance and Funding

This section of the ordinance allows the town or town council the authority to raise funds for the administration and operation of the onsite wastewater management program. Typically, Rhode Island communities have established a fee schedule that constitutes an annual assessment to all ISDS owners in the community. This section of the ordinance also addresses the need to establish a low interest loan or grant program for system upgrade and replacement.

Component #7: Education and Outreach

Establishing a public education program is imperative for a successful wastewater management program. Residents need to be informed about the benefits and goals of the wastewater management ordinance and plan. A typical education and outreach program includes contracting with a consultant or university to provide educational workshops, and advertisements to the community.


Download a Sample Wastewater Management Ordinance.



Copyright 2006 URI Water Quality Program