Colorado’s Goodwin Septic Is A Pioneer In Dewatering

Goodwin Septic Tank Service Inc. stayed ahead of regulations with an innovative disposal facility on Colorado’s Western Slope.
Colorado’s Goodwin Septic Is A Pioneer In Dewatering
Brent Gale and his son, Joshua, provide pumping and portable sanitation services for Goodwin Septic Tank Service in Grand Junction, Colorado. They are shown with a 2008 International 4400 with a Progress aluminum tank and a Masport pump, built out by KeeVac Industries and Hanson Equipment.

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In 1977 when Brent Gale inherited his father’s business, Goodwin Septic Tank Service Inc., in Grand Junction, Colorado, the West wasn’t exactly wild and woolly anymore. But local industry regulations at the time were, to say the least, unsettled.

Gale’s prescient reading of the direction things were heading concerning septage, grease and sand disposal led him to take matters into his own hands. Early experiments with dewatering and self-reporting gave Goodwin an edge when local government finally tightened restrictions, leaving many competitors in the lurch.


Gale began working for his father, LaVoy Gale, and his 22-year-old septic pumping firm in 1970 after getting out of the Army. At that time, there were very few grease traps and car washes in the area, but the father-son team serviced what there was using a 1963 Ford 1-ton dually carrying a 650-gallon tank. A couple years later, they expanded their business to include installing and repairing septic systems.

“Dad put me on a backhoe for the smaller jobs, digging off lids,” Gale remembers. He gradually learned to install drainfields. 

When LaVoy Gale passed away in 1977, the younger Gale took over the company. As Grand Junction grew, there was more business pumping restaurant grease traps and car wash pits. As more people started moving outside the city, many septic systems were installed and serviced.

As with many states in the American West, an attitude of fierce independence kept Colorado regulations rather lax for many years. For a long time, Goodwin disposed of its treated septage through land application on area farm fields.

“Then it was decided we should dump at a landfill, but that got to be a mess with too many people using it,” Gale remembers. “So then we moved to the municipal sewage treatment plant, but people complained about odors. We went back to the landfill for a few years to dump our sand, grease and septic. But that was a solid waste disposal dump, so we were sent back to the treatment plant once they had a place for us to use that wouldn’t smell.”


With all the back-and-forth, Gale saw the writing on the wall. With Goodwin’s business including more and more grease traps and car washes, he knew it was only a matter of time before the treatment plant would give him a hard time.

“I figured they wouldn’t appreciate our sand loads, so I came up with a plan for us to dewater those loads here on our site.” Gale’s foresight paid off: When the plant said they’d no longer accept grit-laden loads, Goodwin was ready.

In June 1987, Goodwin received a tentative permit from the Mesa County Health Department to experiment with dewatering. “They said I’d eventually have to get a state health department certificate, so I started issuing reports,” Gale says. These reports included U.S. Environmental Protection Agency toxicity tests for heavy metals, oil content and VOCs, though toxicity was the only requirement at that time. He wanted to stay ahead of the game and get that certificate before it was required, but was told he would need state approval.

He called the state, which said he needed a Certificate of Designation from Mesa County. “It took five years of going back and forth between the two, because neither one really knew which had jurisdiction since there were no regulations for dewatering,” he recalls. “They put me under their solid waste division, even though ours was liquid waste.”

Goodwin had clearly become a kind of test case and a catalyst for development of Colorado’s waste regulations. “I had been sending them reports and they’d say, ‘Why are you sending this? We don’t need this information.’”

One thing local regulators did know was that they wouldn’t allow the location of Goodwin’s dewatering operation on the company’s property inside city limits, so Gale moved his business to a 100-acre property outside of town. He got the permit for his dewatering plant in 1996 and opened it up to process pumping waste from grease traps, septic tanks and sand pits. 


Goodwin’s dewatering process begins in a large tank, about 10,000 gallons, into which sand trap waste is dumped. There are two compartments inside, which slows the flow to allow settling. When the dewatering tank is full, it’s cleaned out with a backhoe, with the material dumped onto an off-load area, under which an impervious plastic liner protects local groundwater.

The material is dried by spreading it on a 2-acre drying pad, which holds 3 feet of soil on top of a mandatory 40 mil plastic liner to protect groundwater. Grease trap waste is spread on the soil and incorporated using a tractor pulling a disc attachment. Finally, treated dewatered septage is added and similarly mixed. This material eventually breaks down into topsoil, but must stay on the drying pad for about a year before it can be moved to another part of the plant.

Water from the big tank is decanted into a 6,000-gallon, three-chamber settling tank to capture oils. It is discharged about 50 feet through a 6-inch PVC pipe by gravity to a half-acre lined pond, where it evaporates. In a 2,000-gallon oil/water separation tank fabricated from a gasoline storage tank, the oils are skimmed off and shipped along with oils from sand traps – collected and separated in distinct loads – to a refinery. Mixed with solvents, the oil wastes are fine-sprayed onto coal at a nearby mine, which helps it burn better for the coal mine’s power plant customers.

“We now process a combined volume of about a million gallons a year, including loads from a lot of the ski areas around Aspen,” Gale says.

Goodwin’s plant occasionally accepts other pumpers’ loads on an as-needed basis. Goodwin fills out a VOC and toxicity test and issues a nonhazardous waste manifest for each load. Other required forms include a grease transporter permit, a grease transporter bond and a waste grease facility permit. Reports are filed quarterly with a tipping fee, and once a year Goodwin must report how many grease traps it serviced, how many gallons of septage and grease were pumped, and how these loads were disposed of.


Gale now works with his son, Joshua Gale, who joined the company in November 1998, after his service in the U.S. Navy. He helps his father manage a vacuum truck fleet that has grown to include a 2005 and a 2006 Peterbilt 335 rig, each with a 3,600-gallon Progress aluminum tank with hydraulic lift, full-open rear hatch and a liquid-cooled Masport HXL-400 pump. The units were built out by Bay State Truck and Trailer.

These are joined by a 2008 International 4400 with a 2,800-gallon Progress aluminum tank and a Masport HXL-400 pump, built out by KeeVac Industries and McCandless Truck Center (formerly Hanson Equipment). A 1988 GMC with a 2,200-gallon steel tank and a Jurop/Chandler 260 pump was built out by Wee Engineer (previously featured in the Pumper Classy Truck section) and a 1987 Mack with a 3,600-gallon steel tank, hydraulic lift and full-open rear hatch that has a Demag Wittig H7-5V hydraulic pump (Gardner Denver) and was built out by Cusco.

A 2006 GMC 5500 4x4 built out by Crescent Tank with a flat 600-gallon waste/250-gallon freshwater steel tank and Masport pump is used for portable sanitation. A 1996 GMC 3/4-ton 4x4 pickup carries a steel slide-in tank from Satellite Industries with a capacity of 250 gallons of waste and 150 gallons of freshwater.


Brent Gale says he owes his success to the people who work for him. “The greatest asset is the people who work for me,” he says, explaining that few of them have been with the company for less than a decade. His son concurs and says he’s learned how to appreciate his employees by watching his dad.

When asked about a succession plan, Joshua Gale says, “We’ll pretty much keep doing what we’re doing until my dad decides to hand off the business or can’t work anymore. I don’t intend to make any changes to the core of what we’re doing. There’s the possibility of growth, but that’s not necessarily what’s going to happen. Sometimes bigger isn’t better and just gives you more headaches.”

Joshua Gale has three daughters, and the oldest, Kylynn Gale, 12, is beginning to show interest in the business. “She likes to go with me to pump grease traps and on truck runs,” he says. “Maybe we’ll have a fourth generation of Gales at Goodwin.”


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