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Management to Support Sustainable
Urbanism in New England Villages
Juli Beth Hinds, AICP
Senior Project Manager – Planning
North Ferrisburgh, VT
• Practice in integrated water resource management – water
supply, wastewater & groundwater issues, watershed hydrology, stream
• Member, Water Environment Research Foundation’s
Decentralized Research Advisory Committee
• Member, Water Environment Federation – Small
Communities Committee, US EPA’s MOU for Decentralized
Wastewater System Management
• Signer, 2007 Baltimore Charter for Sustainable Water
On‐Site Wastewater Systems are
REALITY in much of New England
EXTENSIVE areas of New England…
•Are NOT served by conventional sewer collection and
•rely on individually owned and maintained on‐site wastewater
•Are in close proximity to important water resources: rivers,
wetlands, Long Island Sound, ocean, estuaries, lakes
Lack of wastewater treatment
• Property values
• Tax bases
• Density goals
• Affordable housing
• Many CNU principles!
• Community viability
• Community resilience
Wolcott Property Values; Waitsfield Elementary
…it’s not so good for water
So what happens when you try to
provide wastetwater capacity the old‐
fashioned way – with a sewer system?
Once there was a
village by a
lived in a
And though their
were at or slightly
below the USDA
their general store
and their tidy
homes and school
The Villagers sold
pottery and organic
woolen socks to
tourists, who took
pictures of their
“I can’t believe they
spend twelve bucks
on those socks!”
…and the river water
flowed by and bore their
…and the villagers
Then one day the
Old Man of the
to the Villagers and
How dare you foul my waters with
your yuck! You must construct a
or I shall send a plague of lawyers
fear at the
SEWER, for they
knew this to be a
and long, late
said “Fear Not!
I shall design
you a sewer
you shall not be
But time and change
orders passed…and then
the Wizard said:
“I can keep the plague of
lawyers from you with my
MAGIC SEWER PLANT, but
it shall cost eighteen
million dollars and ALL
villagers must pay.”
there were only
3,600 of them in
the whole town,
and their whole
village budget was
only three million
dollars each year.
“That’s 1.5 million
pairs of organic
socks!” they cried.
the Wizard, “If
you rezoned that
farm land out
on the highway
for a power
center, I bet
there are many
stores that would
come and THEY
could pay for the
Now the villagers were truly
miserable and began to fight.
Meetings dragged on.
Consultants were hired.
The wizard conjured an
earmark, but it was too small,
and the bond vote too large.
The Old Man of the
River thundered, but
his words became
empty threats and he
offered no help.
The weaver of organic socks
could not expand her
weaving studio, because she
had an old septic system,
and moved away.
And the villagers were unhappy, and
the yuck flowed, and the Old Man of the
River threatened, and the Wizard
designed, and there were no more
organic socks to sell to the tourists.
And so they puzzled…
What would an affordable, 21-st century,
sustainable wastewater system look like?
One that kept their lovely village,
and let the weaver of organic socks expand her
studio, and didn’t take all their money, and
didn’t need a power center?
CONVENTIONAL SEWERS: Call it “Peak Water.”
The system of taking water out of the ground, fouling
it, moving it back to a plant, using a chemical and
energy‐intensive process, and discharging it to a
surface water (or worse: the ocean) are so 19th
century…or even Roman!
We will spend as much time
and energy taking apart our
sewer infrastructure to re‐tool
it for hydrologic as we will
reusing mothballed malls and
power centers. . . Sewer mining, from
…many water‐short places are
doing it already.
BUT HOW CAN THAT BE?
DON’T WE HAVE TO HAVE A SEWER
SYSTEM TO CREATE A DENSE
Unsewered places have avoided
the water infrastructure equivalent
For sustainability and density without
repeating the sad tale of the Villagers:
Find a little land for the water ‐
On (or very near!) your site
And think of it like adding solar panels or
a wind turbine to your roof – it’s PART
OF the water grid!
YOU CAN HAVE
$18 MILLION IN EARMARKS AND SUBSIDIES
UNDESIRABLE GROWTH OPTIONS
ORGANIC SOCK SALES (unless you really want to)
Solaire, Clerico Systems
Sustainable Water Infrastructure:
Soil based, managed, and incremental
Point 1! Really Important!
• Sustainability requires
us to RE‐HYDRATE our
• Put treated water right
back into the DIRT, let
the BUGS do their thing,
and RESTORE our
URI – Block Island
• Soil microbes, like
teenage boys, are dumb
enough to eat anything.
Point 3! Really Important!
BARRIER: AN OUTMODED IDEA
OF ‘PUBLIC HEALTH’ FOCUSED
ON CONTACT WITH PATHOGENS,
AND LACK OF RESPONSIBLE
MANAGEMENT – creates
Use management, technology,
and natural processes to clean URI – Block Island
I am not just a lawn!
water, restore hydrology, and
support urbanism. I am the perfect ecological buffer
between a livable human community
and the soil and hydrologic cycles!
I am so totally cool!
Point 2: Hard for ‘Smart Growth’ to Swallow…
• QUIT MOVING THE WATER
AROUND! It is hydrologically
and ecologically disruptive
and uses enormous quantities
• Treat the water where the
people are – regardless! Yarmouth, MA – use of drip
irrigation in road rights‐of‐way
• We will steal as little of your
land for density as possible by
being creative with “land
Point 2: Hard for ‘Smart Growth’ to Swallow…
“But our sewer district that controls growth…”
• If your smart growth strategy or zoning
incentivizes conventional sewer over on‐site
systems, prevents sewer mining, or
discourages water re‐use, RETHINK IT or find a
new growth control tool…or else!
You’ll get a visit from the old man
of the river!
• Management programs with
professional oversight of on‐
site or cluster systems ensure
performance and viability of
• It’s managed professionally
like a sewer system ‐ the
sewer guys just make house
• Strongly encouraged by US
EPA as a LONG TERM solution
to wastewater needs
• Who’s doing it really well? University of Rhode Island On‐Site
Alabama, Loudon County
Wastewater Training Center
BARRIER: ENABLING LAW
& REQUIREMENTS FOR
**In AL, TN, OK – great
source of green jobs
University of Rhode Island On‐Site
Wastewater Training Center
We have only been willing to socialize the cost of wastewater
treatment one way: conventional sewers.
Subsidies, earmarks, and high costs create PERVERSE
Septic systems are ‘free,’ until they need a $20,000 home
equity loan for replacement.
Huge need to develop funding models that fund incremental
replacements, and reflect cost and VALUE of treatment
Basic principle: public investment and oversight of systems
that have public benefits and costs, but are on private land.
BARRIER: What is the method and legal
framework for socializing the cost of
infrastructure that’s located on private
property…but has public impacts?
VT: Working on it.
21st century water is a paradigm shift, and it’s
never going to be easy. But for the sake of the
Villagers, please take this pledge:
I hereby pledge that I will support new
partnerships and strategies for properly
managed, utility funded, distributed, soil
based wastewater systems to serve New
England villages and communities, and shall
no more say the words “septic” or “sewers,”
even though…hello…I’m an architect and I
cannot believe I had to listen to a talk about
• Get into the topic! Get informed!
• ADD WATER AND HYDROLOGY to your thinking about “Green Buildings”!
• CHALLENGE YOUR ENGINEER, or community, with an on‐site treatment or
• REIMAGINE GREENSPACE for re‐hydrating our landscape and cleaning our
• Visit an on‐site training center!
• Have your organization become an MOU partner for distributed
…and your village and its
water resources will live
happily ever after.
No children were harmed in the
filming of this presentation.