Promoting Preventative Maintenance in Rural America

September 19, 2017 | General RCAP News, Wastewater

By Karen D. McBride, Rural Development Environmental Specialist, Rural Community Assistance Corporation (Western Rural Community Assistance Partnership)

My job as a Technical Assistance Provider (TAP) is to work with under-served, often distressed, rural communities. This reflects communities who don’t have many resources when it comes to wastewater treatment and disposal, and can’t afford high rates for central sewer systems. These are communities that have had septic systems for years but may never have had the opportunity to learn how to maintain them properly. In many of these communities, they are limited to one or two septic tank pumpers and pumping only occurs when there is a problem. This results in greater cost of repair or replacement and it isn’t always easy or affordable to make this crisis correction.

Preventative maintenance not only saves the community from costly last-minute repairs, but can also be an opportunity for a community member to become a service provider. TAPs assist local community members with resources to become a service provider. We also establish on-going inspection and monitoring for individual septic systems. These activities make a significant impact to both public and environmental health, reduce the number of failed systems, limit the often times expensive cost of repair and replacement, and result in systems consistently last longer, as designed. Many of our communities are also in close enough proximity to one another where a service provider could service two or three communities in a geographical area. Sharing this resource provides a Circuit Rider Service Provider approach and can often keep the cost of providing on-going inspection and monitoring more affordable to a small community by creating economies of scale. It also promotes jobs for septic tank pumpers as ongoing preventive maintenance creates routine and not reactionary work.

The more we can approach preventive maintenance as a job opportunity, by establishing more inspection and monitoring services, the more we can develop a history trail. A history trail then gives us the advantage of being better prepared to pump, perform maintenance and keep systems in pristine condition. The ultimate goal is to create understanding that septic systems can be a long term means of wastewater treatment and disposal and eliminate the belief that they are a temporary solution until the community can afford sewer.

We have communities and Tribes in California where this approach is beneficial, but we need to keep expanding these opportunities.

For service provider (Inspector Certificate of Completion Training) training opportunities, see the National Association of Wastewater Technicians link at

For Case Studies of community inspection programs, see USEPA Office of Wastewater Management website


Biography: Karen D. McBride

As a Rural Development Environmental Specialist, Karen provides technical assistance and training at various conferences, institutes, workshops, clients and agencies. Karen has been with the Rural Community Assistance Corporation for twenty years and thirteen years ago worked part time as a Visiting Training Specialist for the National Environmental Training Center at West Virginia University. She was the originator of the Sea Ranch Onsite Wastewater Disposal Zone, the third Septic System Inspection and Monitoring program established in California. She was a founding member and past president of the California Onsite Wastewater Association. Karen has worked on numerous committees including the USEPA Speakers Bureau for Wastewater Management Voluntary Guidelines, Expert Panel member to the National Small Flows Onsite Demonstration Project Phase 4, USEPA steering committee to assist in the development of the Handbook for Managing On-Site and Clustered (Decentralized) Wastewater Treatment Systems and a consultant to the State of New Mexico, community of Willard, Septic System Survey Analysis. Her education includes studies at the School of Engineering Program in the Operation of Wastewater Treatment Plants, California State University Sacramento and in Wastewater Technology, Orange Coast College Costa Mesa, California. Karen is a California State Certified Wastewater Operator.