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June 27, 2001   Email to Friend 

Debra Davis
(334) 613-4686
June 27, 2001

Above, workers install a constructed wetland at the Alabama Onsite Wastewater Training Center located at the University of West Alabama. The wetland is an alternative to traditional septic systems. Other experimental systems include sand filters, right.
"Livingston, Ala." Most rural residents believe that as long as their toilet flushes, they don't have a sewage problem. That's not always the case, according to Allen Tartt, director of the Alabama Onsite Wastewater Training Center at the University of West Alabama (UWA).

"In the past, on-site systems usually consisted of a traditional septic tank and field lines," Tartt said. "But because of the soil conditions found in a large portion of the state, those systems don't perform properly. In north Alabama, it may be the bedrock that causes problems. In west Alabama, it's the clay soil. In the coastal plain, it may be the high water table or sandy areas where water percolates too fast through the soil. In all those situations, a traditional septic tank system doesn't work properly."

Five years ago the Alabama Department of Public Health did a survey of on-site waste water treatment (septic tanks) in the state, Tartt said. The survey revealed that 50 percent of all conventional septic systems in rural Alabama are currently failing or are expected to fail in the future. In the Black Belt of west Alabama, failure rates are expected to reach 90 percent, he said.

With that analysis in mind, the UWA decided that measures needed to be taken to prevent pollution of Alabama's waters by non-point source pollution. That's what led to the creation of the Alabama On-site Wastewater Training Center.

Pres Allinder, director of the Bureau of Environmental Services for the Alabama Department of Public Health, said the Alabama Onsite Wastewater Training Center is a great benefit to his department. He said the center makes the department's job easier because it provides a way to train installers, engineers and others about more appropriate and complete ways of controlling on-site waste water.

Allinder said the center presently has a captive audience because of state legislation passed in 2000. "The legislation requires that all installers have a special license. If the installers want the certification, they must complete this training," said Allinder.

Specifically, the center was founded to help make the public and professionals in the waste water industry aware of alternatives to conventional on-site waste water treatment. In the future, Allinder would like to see county environmentalists visit the training center at least once, with a possible refresher course every two to four years. The Alabama Onsite Wastewater Training Center is the only facility in the state that offers this specialized certification. There are no training centers of this type in Mississippi or Georgia, and a center in Tennessee is not yet operational. Patti Hurley, the Nonpoint Source Education Coordinator for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, said having the training center located at the university is a big benefit.

"Don Hines (the former president of UWA) saw that this was an appropriate educational program and was willing to donate the land for this center," said Hurley. Hines saw that officials at the university were focused on supporting this program, she added. The UWA training center, located on 20 acres near the campus in Livingston, demonstrates several alternative waste water treatment plans to participants in the training program. The UWA secured a $210,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to start the program. Since it began in June 2000, more than 400 people have gone through the training program.

Alfa recently donated $150,000 to the center to build a classroom and research building on the site. In addition to the training program, the building also will be used for student research, biology and environmental science classes, trade shows for manufactures and other conservation seminars.

"UWA is committed to our mission of service to the west Alabama community on the local and regional level," said UWA President Ed Roach. "One of our most important areas of service and education is in the field of environmental science, and water quality is a vital component of this field. This gift demonstrates Alfa's commitment to protecting the quality of Alabama's water resources and the University of West Alabama proudly shares this commitment."

"Alfa is committed to helping protect the environment while improving the standard of living for rural Alabamians. We are proud to be able to support this training and research facility," said Alfa President Jerry Newby.

Hurley said the donation for the construction of a classroom that Alfa gave the Alabama Onsite Wastewater Training Center helped to step the program up. "This was the step we needed to get going in the right direction with this program. It helped the program to become an independent system."

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