Water Quality

NEHA’s Policy Priorities on Water

Environmental health is profoundly local and environmental health professionals mediate some of the most intimate parts of our lives: the food we place in our baby’s mouths, the control of insects like mosquitos, and the water that rehydrates children after play time. Environmental health professionals save money, saves lives and protect the future

Only 28 states currently require a credential that is an impartial, third-party endorsement of an individual’s professional knowledge and experience.


Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems

Onsite wastewater treatment systems, frequently called decentralized systems, refers to any system used to treat and dispose of/recycle wastewater from homes, businesses, industrial facilities, and sometimes entire communities.

  • Septic systems usually serve up to 20 people, oftentimes individual households or small businesses, and include a septic tank and soil absorption field.
  • The frequency of septic systems varies by region, ranging from ten to over fifty percent of homes in some states.
  • Larger, more complex systems use advanced treatment units which treat and discharge to surface waters or the soil.
  • When used properly, onsite systems protect public health and the environment by reducing disease transmission and removing pollution from surface and groundwater.
  • Individual onsite systems are typically regulated by states, tribes and local governments, while large capacity septic systems are regulated by the EPA.

Environmental Health professionals play an important role in managing onsite wastewater treatment systems. Septic system professionals are involved in installing, operating, maintaining, and repairing onsite systems. Professionals with local or state health departments evaluate potential sites for onsite systems, issue permits or licenses for technicians, conduct inspections, and enforce local regulations. Additionally, environmental health professionals partner with industries involved in developing land containing buildings using onsite systems to ensure that these treatment systems continue to discharge clean and usable water.  

In October 2019, the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA), and the National Onsite Wastewater Association (NOWRA), signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to formalize their mutual commitment to water quality protection. The MOU provides a framework for facilitating long-term mutual objectives, which include sustained contact among ground water professionals, sustained contact among leadership and staff of both organizations, and a cooperatively partnering on a variety of joint activities.

Available Resources & Programs

Preparedness & Response for Septic Systems

After a disaster, such as a hurricane, wildfire, or earthquake, septic systems may be damaged and fail to operate correctly. Ensuring that these systems function properly is essential to providing safe waste disposal for millions of Americans, yet there may be no standard safety protocol in place for using septic systems after a disaster occurs.

NEHA worked with subject matter experts and national partners to develop an easily accessible toolkit with guidance documents for different types of disasters.

Learn More

Wastewater Resources & Programs

diagram of septic system for drinking water

NEHA is also improving decentralized wastewater management by partnering with the US EPA in their septic activities to aid consumers and professionals in the field. NEHA is part of a select group of national organizations that signed a Memorandum of Understanding with US EPA to improve the quality and quantity of resources and education available to wastewater professionals, regulatory agencies, and other onsite wastewater stakeholders. Additionally, NEHA participates in EPA’s annual SepticSmart Week with outreach activities to encourage homeowners and communities to care for and maintain their septic systems.

The NEHA Flooding Preparedness and Response for Private Water Systems page includes a range of resources to assist private well and septic system users before, during, and after a hurricane or mass flooding disaster.

The US EPA How Your Septic System Can Impact Nearby Water Sources tool is a set of interactive diagrams which illustrate the relationship between septic systems and drinking water, septic systems and surface water, and ways to improve septic systems and better protect nearby water sources. These resources provide homeowner outreach and education to improve use and maintenance of residential septic systems. An example of the diagrams can be found to the left.




NOWRA logoNOWRA Online Septic Learning Academy

Taught by experts in the industry, NOWRA’s Academy offerings cover the fundamentals of the decentralized wastewater profession as well as advanced training in multiple topics. Septic system course offerings include those developed from a national perspective and those meeting specific state requirements.  

NOWRA Online Academy



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"Groundwater is the water found underground in the cracks and spaces in soil, sand and rock. It is stored in and moves slowly through geologic formations of soil, sand and rocks called aquifers." The Groundwater Foundation

According to estimates from the CDC, over 103 million Americans get their drinking water from groundwater sources:

  • Local water district and part of arger water distribution system
  • Private wells directly into homes.

Groundwater is vital to US food supplies; currently 64% of crops in the United States are irrigated by groundwater.

While groundwater is generally a safe and healthy source of water, its supply is not endless. A number of factors have significant implications on groundwater quantity and quality:

  • Drought
  • Over-plumbing
  • Chemical spills
  • Feedlot run-off
  • Pesticide overuse
  • Leaking sewage systems
  • Pharmaceuticals  
  • Hydraulic Fracturing (fracking)

In recent years, drought has had the biggest impact on groundwater supplies and quality.


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Recreational Water

smiling little boy in blue swim-shorts sliding down a bright yellow water slideHealthy Swimming and Recreational Waters

Pools, water parks, and other water-related venues are great sources of fun and exercise, however, with aquatic activities there are risks of waterborne illness and injury. 

Pools and similar facilities can harbor pathogens that make us sick, and sometimes the chemicals intended to inactivate these pathogens can irritate our skin, eyes and lungs.  Fortunately, most of these risks are preventable.  Environmental health professionals can work with aquatic-industry leaders and the public to minimize these risks so we can all enjoy the benefits of recreational water safely.

CDC's Healthy and Safe Swimming Week

According to the US Census, there are over 30 million swimmer visits each year in the United states. CDC's Healthy and Safe Swimming week helps create awareness around potential illness and injuries that can occur when enjoying recreational waters. The CDC Healthy and Safe Swimming Week toolkit contains everything you need to let your community know to keep swimming healthy and safe.

Health and Safe Swimming Week Toolkit

Aquatic Healthy and Safety Infographic

NEHA Aquatic health and safety infographic

Download Aquatic Healthy and Safety InfographiC (PDF) 

CDC Updates to the MAHC

The updated MAHC incorporates revisions that were suggested at the bi-annual Council for the Model Aquatic Health Code (CMAHC). The suggestions were categorized, opened for discussion to the CMAHC membership, reviewed again and accepted revisions are added to the MAHC. The CDC website offers a variety of ways to review the changes made as well as PDF versions of the revised code.

The Model Aquatic Health Code

Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC)

MAHC is a collaborative effort of public health, academia, and industry. By providing a model code based on the latest science, the MAHC strives to keep swimming healthy and protect individuals, families, and communities from preventable waterborne diseases and injuries. The MAHC encourages stakeholder involvement, so please make your swimming pool program aware of the following resources and opportunities to get involved.

Updated Model Aquatic Health Code
CDC has released an updated 2018 version of the MAHC. The review process is organized by the Council for the Model Aquatic and will be done bi-annually.

To learn more about the MAHC, view the 2015 AEC presentation:


Meet the CMAHC

The Council for the Model Aquatic Health Code (CMAHC) will serve as a key CDC partner by serving as a national clearinghouse for gathering stakeholder input and advice on needed improvements to the MAHC. Consider joining today.

Email mahc@cdc.gov for more information

Resources from the EH20 Recreational Water Virtual ConferenceEH2O Recreational Water Virtual Conference Logo Beach Ball and Water Drop

Health and Safety

Recommendations for Reducing Cryptosporidium Infection Risk in Swimming Pools ; Transcript

Opportunities for Preventing Mass Chlorine Exposures at Recreational Swimming Pools ; Transcript 

Evaluation of Swimming Pool Treatment Chemical Health Effects Under NSF/ANSI Standard 50 ; Transcript

Dangerous Underwater Breath-Holding Behavior-Related Drownings in NY, 1988-2011 ; Transcript

Lifeguarding and the Model Aquatic Health Code ; Transcript

Innovation and Technology

Introducing Aquatic Inspector: A CDC iPad App to Streamline Pool Inspections ; Transcript

Advanced Chemistry and Its Impact on Disinfection ; Transcript

Swimming Pool Technologies: Are These the Answer? ; Transcript

Floatation Systems in the State of Washington ; Transcript

Inspections and Training

Reducing Drownings Through Epidemiology and Interventions ; Transcript

Network for Aquatic Facility Inspection Surveillance Data on Immediate Closures and Violations ; Transcript

Expanding Swimming Pool Educational Outreach ; Transcript

Understanding and Applying Lifeguard/Bather Supervision and Operational Entries in the MAHC ; Transcript

Questions? Contact programs@neha.org or 303-756-9090 x 335.

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World Aquatic Health Conference

The WAHC is a scientific conference, attracting a wide range of leading thinkers and professionals involved in the aquatic industry. These include, aquatic facility owners and operators, service providers, consultants, parks & recreation, water parks, manufacturers, academia, associations, builders, community organizations, hotels, government, media, retail, distributors, and health/medical field professionals.