“Doctor”, “Firefighter”, these are often careers we hear kids talk about when asked what they see themselves doing in the future, but when was the last time you hear a child say, “septic inspector”, “water treatment provider” or “sanitarian”? While these careers may not be easy to say, they are growing industries that need more workers for the next generation.
Many rural health and environmental departments are understaffed and face challenges in helping homeowners care for their onsite wastewater systems. At the same time, environmental and health departments are also introducing the next generation to the world of wastewater and sanitation, promoting future career opportunities. For Counties like Skagit County, Washington, Septic Smart Week allows staff to focus on connecting and engaging the community about the importance of onsite wastewater systems to human and environmental health. EPA’s SepticSmart Week materials assist with continued outreach efforts and social media blitzes throughout the year in the following ways:
Health Officers attend the County Fair, environmental education events, conferences, and workshops bringing along a custom made 3-D plexiglass septic tank model to draw people in and generate conversations. The labeled model allows people to see what is normally underground and promote the use of correct terminology for system components. In person demonstrations are complemented by distributing SepticSmart materials to homeowners in both English and Spanish. What better way to engage folks than through fun? By appealing to the more humorous side of waste and waste treatment, the County is able to draw kids into a booth at an event. The Fair hosts activities such as “Game of Thrones,” where players are asked septic trivia questions, and for each question they get right they get a stuffed “poo” made out of brown fabric and dry beans that they get to toss into the toilet for the chance to win prizes. These games give younger generations an experiential learning opportunity that allows them to discover how wastewater treatment works.
Increasing Accessibility & Compliance
Skagit County also developed a septic education program to provide property owners of gravity septic systems the tools and resources to complete their own inspections. From 2007-2020 the County provided a two-part training program that coupled an online video and quiz (Septic 101) with an in-person field class where we partnered with local inspectors to train interested parties on completing gravity system inspections (Septic 201). Since COVID-19 prevented gatherings, the program was converted from in-person class to online training with links to videos and resources from the Washington Department of Health and EPA, along with a downloadable training booklet for future reference. The program requires homeowner inspectors to submit photographs of their system during the inspection and agree to a follow up visit with staff if anything appears problematic.
Assisting New Property Owners
Moving can be chaotic and purchasing a home with a septic system may be something totally new to many homeowners. The County developed a newsletter filled with resources, websites, contacts, and helpful information to all properties with septic systems that have recently sold. The goal is to provide property owners with trusted resources, contacts, and awareness about the requirements surrounding their system, so a future inspection reminder letter doesn’t come as a surprise.
Overall, there is no one answer for disseminating information to our communities, or a “right” way to engage people. By trying to meet people where they are, such as agricultural fairs, county workshops or libraries and providing easy to read and trusted materials, dedicated professionals make wastewater management and sanitation interesting and applicable to broad portions of people’s lives, because it is a necessity for current and future generations.