Community Sewer Systems

The short answer is, “Yes.”

However, it’s not very common. While several apartment units might share a single large septic tank, they still each need enough lateral lines to treat their effluent. So, a single apartment building would need several acres of leach field. An apartment complex would need to devote over half the land to wastewater treatment.

Advanced wastewater systems are a better option for apartments outside the reach of sanitary sewers. Because they treat septic effluent in a biological reactor rather than in the ground, they can reduce the acreage needed for disposal.

Here’s an example of apartment complex wastewater treatment that works :

Aerial photo of an apartment complex with wastewater effluent drip field labeled to show size
Upon entering this apartment complex, you drive past the clubhouse and wind by a lush slope. Spoiler: it’s the wastewater drip field.

Here’s the satellite view for scale:

Satellite view of an apartment complex with wastewater drip field outlined.

If you’re making plans to develop property into apartments, give us a call. We can help you make the most of the space.

Wastewater systems in the US are sized based on the maximum number of gallons per day they can treat.

A 300-room hotel, for instance, might require a 50,000 gallon-per-day system. Depending on soil loading rate*, that system might need a 2 acre drip field for effluent disposal.

An installer walking inside a wastewater system drip field dosing tank.
Every component in our systems must account for design criteria.

Here are some factors that determine how many gallons per day your community septic or other wastewater system must be able to handle:

  • Capacity in gallons per day is determined by state and local design specifications.
  • These regulatory agencies calculate required treatment capacity in terms of maximum gallons used per person per day or maximum flow per bedroom per day, etc.
  • Commercial wastewater systems use more complex formulas that take their specific usage into account. The hotel mentioned above might need to account for 75 gallons per bed per day but might also have a restaurant and a bar attached for which another 12 gallons per seat per meal would have to be added.
  • Design criteria must also assume the level of pollution present within wastewater from different sources. Very dirty wastewater takes longer to treat which means systems must have higher capacity than what is released to give the system the time needed.

Here is an example of a design criteria matrix from an actual state regulatory agency:

An example design criteria table for wastewater system capacity in residential and commercial applications.
Design criteria differ based on locality.
  • Design criteria tables such as the one above provide a starting point to determine size, but in most cases, regulatory agencies grant variances based on actual flow and treatment level.
  • We at Aqua Tech will research the design criteria required for your project and budget around them. As the build gets closer, we reevaluate your treatment needs and work with civil engineers and regulatory authorities to ensure regulatory compliance without excess expense.

Bottom line: Use this table to get a rough estimate. When you’re ready, let’s talk and get more specific.


*Soils differ in how much moisture they can absorb per hour. Very dense soil might only be able to absorb one tenth of a gallon per square foot every hour while porous soil can absorb almost a full gallon per square foot. Soil absorption per hour is called its “loading rate.” The higher the loading rate the smaller the drip field needed.

What are the 3 Stages of Wastewater Treatment?

Wastewater can be treated in up to three stages generally known as primary, secondary, and tertiary treatment. Here’s what’s involved in each of these stages:

  • Primary Treatment

    In this stage, heavy solids and grease are separated from the raw sewage through gravity and buoyancy respectively. A conventional septic tank is an example of primary treatment.

  • Secondary Treatment

    The wastewater that leaves a septic tank or other primary treatment apparatus is still pretty contaminated with suspended solids and toxic chemicals such as ammonia. Secondary treatment systems use oxygen to facilitate natural digestion of contaminants by micro organisms already present in the wastewater. All municipal systems use secondary treatment.

  • Tertiary Treatment

    Even though much cleaner, water leaving secondary treatment can still pose somewhat of a threat to the environment. To ensure complete protection of aquifers and watersheds, wastewater effluent can enter a third treatment stage. Tertiary treatment usually involves some sort of natural or chemical filtration/sanitization. Examples of tertiary treatment are constructed wetlands or drip irrigation fields.

Our systems use all three stages of wastewater treatment to equip you for responsible growth. Let us show you how!

Drip irrigation systems are an efficient and proven technology many communities use to recycle and dispose of treated wastewater. The effluent is applied to the soil slowly and uniformly from a network of narrow tubing, placed in the ground at shallow depths of 6 to 12 inches in the plant root zone.

Because water is such a precious commodity, recycling wastewater can have both economic and environmental benefits for communities. Reusing wastewater to irrigate land can help protect surface water resources by preventing pollution and by conserving potable water for other uses. This is particularly important where community water supply sources rely on wells. The more water that is pumped from wells and discharged as effluent into a stream or other surface water, the less will be available to recharge aquifer or ground water sources upon which future well water supplies rely.

Another benefit of applying wastewater to the land is that the soil provides additional treatment through naturally occurring physical, biological and chemical processes. Irrigating with wastewater also adds nutrients and minerals to soil that are good for plants and it helps to recharge valuable groundwater resources.

Residential developments with low building density required by septic drain fields contribute to an undesirable sprawl and limit land available for playgrounds, hiking trails and other open space amenities. Spray systems, while superior to septic, can also limit land use since they produce aerosols which require large buffer zones.

Community sewers that use drip irrigation consolidate undersoil treatment into one region of the subdivision. This region can provide a visually appealing common area for the development. Achieving higher land use densities with desirable open spaces are important and shared goals of land use planners, environmentalists and developers alike.

Soil reuse systems require less monitoring and thus lower operating costs when compared to surface discharge.

Additionally, subsurface discharge expedites acquisition of state and county permits by addressing potential concerns of downstream property owners removing any reason for them to contest approval.

Beneficial reuse through drip irrigation is just another way we’re equipping responsible growth. Click the button below to see how we can equip you.
architecture backyard brickwalls chimney
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Advantages over septic:

  • Increased building density. They don’t require big drain fields on each lot.
  • Longer lasting. Land disposal through drip irrigation doesn’t become spent through built-up solids like septic leach fields.
  • Much better for the environment. Decentralized systems treat wastewater through accelerated natural processes, thereby eliminating water-borne pollution.

Advantages over municipal systems:

  • Sooo much cheaper! Decentralized systems reduce or eliminate the need for miles of large diameter pipe and lift stations.
  • No smell. Designed to be small and efficient, they treat so fast that there’s no detectable odor outside of a few feet from the system.
  • They facilitate development in growth areas without increasing tax burden or contributing to suburban sprawl.
  • They keep water in local aquifers rather than sending it downstream.

Talk to an expert!

(479) 530-7922

One of the biggest challenges to implementing comprehensive land use plans is how to accommodate new development in locally designated growth areas that do not have public sewers. Many rural and suburbanized towns in the US face this question.

They want to direct growth to the most suitable areas of town – near existing services, such as fire stations and schools, for example – but have no prospect of gaining access to public sewer lines. New development must rely on soils, usually on a lot by lot basis, to handle wastewater. The conventional wisdom says that means low densities of development, negating the effectiveness of a growth area. However, towns and counties without public sewer systems have options that they may not realize.

four tank wastewater system behind green metal fence

Additionally, watersheds in the United States reflect tremendous diversity of climatic conditions, geology, soils, and other factors that influence water flow, flora and fauna. There is equally great variation in historical experience, cultural expression, institutional arrangements, laws, policies and attitudes. With regards to wastewater issues, it would be a mistake to impose a standard model from the federal level to address the needs on a local level. Correspondingly, centralized
sewer systems are aging, frequently underfunded with respect to replacement costs and expensive to maintain. In addition, centralized sewer strategies are increasingly challenged by environmental and social considerations such as inter-basin transfer issues, aquifer depletion, nutrient loading and urban sprawl.

blue and gray concrete house with attic during twilight
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Decentralized wastewater management has the potential to be the catalyst for the re-creation of our institutions, to support a new agenda, and for rapidly building a flexible infrastructure to sustain the integrity of the natural systems that are essential to a healthy economy.

Tom Bartlett – founder and Ceo of aqua Tech

The new emerging civic agenda of smart growth, community preservation, open space planning, ecologically sound economic development, resource conservation, and watershed management demands that we rethink what constitutes assets and liabilities. With a capacity of roughly 200,000 gallons per day, these off-grid plants can be constructed at a cost of well under $3,000 per home. These are economic, environmental and quality of life issues and they do not lend themselves to single purpose solutions. They require local community based consideration within the context of flexible multipurpose planning.

Statistics have shown us that within the U.S., twenty-five percent of existing residential real estate and forty-seven percent of new construction are served by onsite treatment systems. Many of these systems are acknowledged to be inadequate with respect to soil absorption, nutrient removal, resource protection and public health. Ironically, despite these statistics and EPA policy changes, most regulatory codes as well as most municipal and commercial planning continue to consider onsite systems to be temporary solutions awaiting a centralized sewer hookup.

male constructor drawing draft on paper roll
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Looking beyond the traditional assumption that wastewater is simply a matter of safe disposal and the public health; the real contemporary wastewater issues are the economic and environmental issues in which the public has a primary interest:

  1. Drinking water quality
  2. Deterioration of recreational water resources and other natural systems services
  3. Property Values
  4. Economic development in small and rural communities
  5. Urban sprawl

Beyond just disposal, decentralized wastewater management has the potential to contribute to the formation of an infrastructure to sustain watershed integrity. Decentralized wastewater treatment serves the “watershed agenda” and the principles of “community preservation” and “sustainable development.”

When approaches to the larger wastewater issues are successfully accomplished everyone benefits:

  1. Local communities win open space zoning, water quality and supply protection, increased development capacity and an expanding tax base.
  2. Natural systems are sustained through prudent zoning and reduction of non-point pollution.
  3. Developers win additional lots for development and higher margins typically associated with conservation subdivision design and municipal infrastructure.
  4. Regulatory agencies win because they gain partners in compliance management such as the municipality and perhaps a watershed authority.
  5. Citizens and homeowners win because property values are enhanced as schools, healthcare providers, and retail outlets crop up around the new infrastructure which decentralized systems provide.
clouds country countryside dirt road
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There are no major obstacles to a decentralized infrastructure for wastewater treatment.

New technologies in a properly managed context provide the opportunity for a land based watershed initiative that could significantly reduce small flow point source discharges such as those associated with onsite treatment systems. A decentralized wastewater management infrastructure should include:

  1. Clustered, performance-based, decentralized wastewater management systems
  2. Industrial & commercial pretreatment prior to discharge to existing sewage treatment systems
  3. Wastewater reuse systems

Estimates suggest that this infrastructure is achievable with technologies that require 50% to 70% less space with corresponding reductions in cost of 40% to 50%. For citizens in small and rural communities these reductions represent opportunities to preserve water quality, to stimulate economic development and job formation and to restore property values. Essentially, we are shifting from large sewage collection systems and centralized treatment plants to small and decentralized management systems. Keep in mind also that this is not an alternative to centralized sewer. Rather, it is a complimentary adjunct to the existing infrastructure.

Moreover, the decentralized solution is coming from local community and watershed needs. It is not coming from the bureaucracy. It is essentially good old bottom-up American pragmatism. It is important, therefore, that the general population becomes informed about the benefits of the decentralized approach. We must find a suitable mechanism to accelerate the progress to support watershed management. If we can not find such a mechanism, we run the risk of letting the limited existing strategies (centralized and onsite) dominate the next 20 to 30 year cycle.

Same Destination – Different Paths

With every project being considered for an Aqua Tech System, planners must consider many factors in the selection of an appropriate site specific wastewater collection system.

Such as:

  • Housing density and road frontage
  • Size of the project and wastewater volume to be conveyed
  • Topography and sensitive natural resources
  • Depth to bedrock or groundwater
  • Distance to the wastewater treatment and dispersal site
The Settling Tank getting a final inspection

During the design process of your system the following methods should be considered:

  • Conventional gravity systems (with lift stations as required)
  • Septic Tank Effluent Gravity (STEG) system (AKA small diameter gravity sewers)
  • Septic Tank Effluent Pump (STEP) pressure system
  • Grinder pump pressure sewer system
  • Vacuum

These collection or conveyance systems often represent the major portion of the total capital cost associated with any wastewater system, so careful consideration should be made to avoid extraneous expense while also ensuring reliability and environmental compliance.

Let us help you design a system that takes everything into account.

“STEP” stands for Septic Tank Effluent Pump

We put this Effluent Pump…

…into this Septic Tank (not to scale).

Here’s how it looks when we’re done.

STEP tank installed

Our STEP system creates a pressurized, small pipe influent delivery structure to the treatment plant which eliminates the need for the expensive piping and lift stations that gravity systems require. This means that developers can cut their cost as well as defer some of that reduced cost of the community wastewater system until lots are sold. Since each home shoulders some of the load associated with wastewater treatment, the initial cost and maintenance can be distributed to the homeowners as well.

Beyond reduction in development cost, STEP technology further enhances effluent water quality by leaving the majority of the solids at the point of origin where they can degrade through anaerobic processes. The effluent leaving the tank at the home then becomes the influent which the next component in the Aqua Tech system will treat through aerobic processes.