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NC State Extension

Educational Program in Wastewater Treatment for Public Officials

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Karen Mancl, Professor Food, Agricultural & Biological Engineering

The Ohio State University


Providing adequate sewage treatment facilities for the citizens in small rural communities is a challenge many local leaders face. In Ohio alone an estimated $1.5 to $2 million will be needed to construct sewer systems and treatment plants for every 100 rural homes. With the decreasing availability of Federal construction grant funds, a tremendous financial burden will be placed on the homeowners in small towns. In the thousands of communities in United States with less than 500 homes, lower cost alternative treatment systems are being considered.

In technical areas, such as wastewater treatment, local officials often depend on consultants to make decisions for them. Hiring consultants, however, does not reduce the need for local officials to become educated in technical areas. Cortner and Marsh (1987) have discovered that local officials involvement in the decision-making process will not only educate them, but also build commitment and political feasibility. They also found that local participation developed a reservoir of experience and values that the consultant could build on.

The need to educate local officials about wastewater treatment alternatives is now being recognized. Many state and federal agencies are developing outreach and technical assistance programs. The New York State Self-Help program (Perley, 1987), the Rural Community Assistance program (Rural Community Assistance Corporation, 1987), and the US EPA Outreach programs (Shanaghan, and Flowers, 1987) are three examples of programs that have been established to help leaders in small communities make difficult sewage-facility decisions.

The Cooperative Extension Service also has an educational mission. Hahn (1987) suggest that Cooperative Extension should be encouraged to teach policy makers and citizens about important community issues. He concluded that participation in educational programs on issues of public policy can increase the likelihood of community leaders making the best possible decision for all affected.

The Ohio State University Extension offers an educational program for the leaders in small communities who face expensive sewage- facility decisions. The program is a five session workshop, that is offered at the county level, to teach local officials about wastewater treatment alternatives. The objectives of the program are to teach local leaders:

  • wastewater treatment principles and alternatives,
  • how to measure the sewage facilities needs of a community,
  • how to examine wastewater treatment systems,
  • the operation and maintenance requirements of different systems, and
  • how to select and work with consultants, regulatory agencies, and financial institutions.


The workshop program is conducted in the county through the county extension office. Five sessions are scheduled and conducted over a 2 month period. The first two and last two sessions are two hour meetings. The third session is an all day field trip. Registration is open to all local officials and interested citizens and each workshop is limited to 20 participants.

A notebook is used as the text for the workshops. Extension fact sheets, bulletins, articles, and worksheets are included in the notebook. The three ring binder format makes it possible to hand out materials at each meeting as the workshop continues. Participants are encouraged to add community information to the notebook. A review of wastewater treatment principles begins the second session, which is usually scheduled two weeks later. The importance of proper soil evaluation and the county soil survey is presented during this session. Participants are instructed to color a local soils map as to the suitability of soils for soil absorption systems. The bulk of the session is spent on teaching a technique for gathering information form the residents of the community. A Sanitary Facilities Survey in the form of a face- to-face interview (Mancl, 1987) is presented to the group and a mock interview is conducted to teach them how to use it.

An all day field trip is the third session of the workshop. Participants get a chance to visit sewage facilities in their county. As the group goes from one plant to the next, they learn how to use an observational survey for sewage facility site visits. The survey covers the general impressions of the facility, such as security, odors, and noise. It includes the preliminary, primary, secondary, and final treatment processes. The survey also contains sections on wastewater discharge and sludge handling as well as maintenance requirements an costs.

The field trips generally take 6 hours to conduct and always begin at a 1 to 5 million gallon per day treatment facility. As the field trip continues participants visit a 0.1 to 0.5 mgd facility, a 0.01 to 0.05 mgd facility, and a working home aerobic unit. Examining treatment plants in order by decreasing size allows field trip participants to compare the treatment processes and operation requirements of a small plant to a larger one. Any unique treatment facilities in the county, such as mound systems, sand filters, lagoons or irrigation systems, are also visited on the field trip. One important stop is at an example of a failing sewage system. This stop presents the group with an example of how disease can be spread through the discharge of untreated wastewater in their community.

system management is the focus of the fourth session. A review of the space and management requirements of different treatment systems begins the session. A film entitled “Wastewater Management…Options for Unsewered Areas” (University of Wisconsin, 1982) is used to initiate the discussion. Finally examples of successful management strategies for on-site systems (Mancl and Patterson, 1989) and small community systems (Mancl and Duffalo, 1987) are presented and discussed.

Organizing and assessing information and opportunities is the focus of the final session. The group is introduced to the jurisdictions of the regulatory agencies and their permit responsibilities. Hiring and working with consultants is discussed along with approaching financial institutions. The group also learns community involvement techniques to encourage decision making.


Three methods are used to evaluate the effectiveness of the workshop program; a pretest/ost test, the Sanitary Facilities Survey, and the Sewage Facility Site Visit survey.

A pretest is administered to the workshop participants at the beginning of the first session. It consists of 9 true/false or multiple choice questions. For each the participants are asked to indicate if they are guessing or if they know the answer. At the conclusion of the final meeting a similar, but different set, of questions is presented to the group as a post test.

The concept of using a face-to-face interview Sanitary Facilities Survey is presented to the group during the second session. Following the presentation, the group is encouraged to conduct a survey in their community. Minor modifications can be made to the interview form to customize it to the community.

The Sewage Facilities Site Visit survey form is the third evaluation instrument used in the workshop. Participants are taught how to complete the form on the first stop on the field trip. Through the remainder of the field trip, the participants complete the forms for 2 or 4 other plants.


From 1989 to 1998, 40 workshops have been conducted in 32 Ohio counties. Workshops have been repeated in counties because different communities recognize the need to learn over time. This need was further explored by Miller and Mancl (1991) in their work to determine community readiness to learn about wastewater treatment alternatives. Also small communities can experience changes in leadership, that requires an ongoing educational initiative.

Eight communities have conducted door-to-door sanitary surveys. These survey results (Mancl, 1993) have been used to prepare grant proposals, with regulatory agencies to illustrate community support for alternative systems and with consultants in developing appropriate technologies.

Pretest/post-test results are compiled for each workshop. Overall, pretest scores of 39% correct were raised to 71% correct on the post-test.


Local officials facing expensive decisions of how to provide environmental infrastructure for small communities need to learn more about alternatives, needs assessment, management and available resources. They also need an opportunity to visit facilities to assess if they are appropriate. A multi-session workshop delivered right in the community works well to balance the time available for learning with all they need to know.

Ohio State University Extension has successfully conducted such a program for 10 years and will continue to reach out to local officials in small communities in years to come.


Cortner, H.J. and F.L. Marsh, 1987. Institutional Analysis is Community Decision-Making: A Case Example from Southern Arizona. Water Resources Bulletin 23(2):317-324.

Hahn, A.J. 1987. Educating Citizens and Policy makers about Public Issues. Human Ecology Forum 16(3):11-14.

Mancl, K. 1987. Sanitary Surveys for Small Rural Communites. In:Proceeding of the 5th National Symposium on Individual and Small Community Sewage System. ASAE St. Joseph, MI, pp. 10-19.

Mancl, K. 1993. Improving Small Community Wastewater Treatment, Journal of Extension. Winter pp. 24-26.

Mancl, K. and M. Duffalo. 1987. Circuit Riding for Managing Small Community Sewage Systems. Journal of Environmental Management. 11(2):203-208.

Mancl, K. and S. Patterson. 1988. Management of On-site Sewage Systems at a Lake Development. The Environmental Professional. 10(4):317-325.

Miller, M. and K. Mancl. 1991. the Readiness of Community Leaders to Learn about Wastewater Treatment Alternatives. In:Proceedings of the 6th National Symposium of Individual and Small Community Sewage Systems. ASAE St. Joseph, MI, pp. 276-284.

Perley, D.G.L. 1987. New York State Self-Help Support System Technical Assistance as a Method to Solve Wastewater Treatment Problems. In:Proceedings of the 5th National Symposium on Individual and Small Community Sewage Systems. ASAE St. Joseph, MI, pp 5-9.

Rural Community Assistance Corporation. 1987. Developing an Outreach Program for Small Communities. Municipal Facilities Division, Office of Municipal Pollution Control, US EPA.

Shanaghan, P.E. and J.E. Flowers. 1987. Outreach-Coming Together to Help Small Communities. In:Proceedings of the 5th National Symposium on Individual and Small Community Sewage Systems. ASAE St. Joseph, MI, pp. 1-4.

University of Wisconsin. 1982. Wastewater Management…Options for Unsewered Areas. Spectrum Motions Picture Laboratory. Carol Stream, Illinois. 25 minutes.

Please address any questions to Dr. David Lindbo, Assistant Professor/Extension Specialist.

Page Last Updated: 7 years ago
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