Date:February 06, 2013

A Paradigm Shift towards Performance-based Codes

How might our systems of governance be designed for learning — for both innovation and impact? In planning and development, one promising approach is called performance based: the use of regulations and codes that define desired outcomes, but not how such outcomes might be achieved.

Performance Standards in Onsite Sanitation Codes:

Performance codes start with setting a baseline reference for a pollutant outside the context of any specific technological solution, defining what needs to happen such that those pollutants are transformed into something acceptable for release into the environment, creating general guidelines for designing systems to make this happen, verifying that pollution is removed in the real world, and releasing performance data to the public.

Pollution Standard:
Pollution is defined as “daily loadings” that an average person will put on a sanitation system through their excrement and washwater, defining quantities of feces, urine, and other sanitation concerns that a typical household generates, as well as concentrations of pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus.

Performance Standard:
Performance is defined by logarithmic reductions of diseases and percent reductions in the discharge of nitrogen, phosphorus, and other concentrated pollutants in comparison to the baseline pollution standard with no treatment.

Design Standard:
All new systems could be designed for testability. For septic systems this means accessible ports in the tank and testing wells in the leach field or sand filter. In the event of an environmental concern, all systems can be tested if needed.

Verification System:
There’s a number of different ways to verify performance of different technologies, using existing standards, state test site results, etc.

Accessible System Data:
The testing and verification methodology is openly available, as is all testing data as well as average installed costs. This data assists homeowners in making choices, and policy makers in decisions.

Performance Based Codes in Sweden and Finland

The five points above are summarized from the codes in Finland and Sweden. Both countries passed legislation modeled after the USA’s Clean Water Act in the 1970′s, and created EPA departments modeled on the US EPA.

The Finnish rules are the Government Decree on Treating Domestic Wastewater in Areas Outside Sewer Networks (542/2003) [english]. The Swedish guidelines are Swedish EPA NFS 2006:7 [Swedish with English summary].

Performance Based Codes in the US

The National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association has created a model code process supported by the US EPA. NOWRA’s model code provides excellent guidance on implementing Design Standards and a Verification regime.

Maryland has implemented a Verification system and testing standards independent of NOWRA but similar in its aims.