The Future Is Tied to Technology and Automation

A thriving onsite wastewater industry pushes us to constantly adapt to changing environmental regulations, and new tools and equipment.

The Future Is Tied to Technology and Automation
Eddie Harrison (Photos courtesy of Eddie Harrison)

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Names: Eddie Harrison
Business: BAT Onsite LLC
Location:  Mount Airy, Maryland
Age: 57
Years in the industry: 35

What we do: We service automated onsite systems including Maryland’s BAT (Best Available Technology), drip, mound and other automated systems, concentrating on residential systems and commercial systems under 3,000 gpd. We check and clean filters, screens, aerators and distribution networks; maintain and repair control systems; and respond to alarm calls.

Association involvement: I’ve been a MOWPA member since somewhere near the beginning — around 2000. I’ve been a board member since 2012 and president since 2014.

Benefits of belonging to the association: The benefit is to be on the front line for any changes or developments in the industry. Our state is going through a lot of regulatory changes and when you’re a member you’re able to stay on top of them. We also offer education to keep up with these changes, such as pumper training for ATUs, installer training, property transfer inspection training. Whatever the industry calls for we try to meet that need with a training course.

Biggest issue facing your association right now: State politics. Regulations have been thrust upon us that changed our industry and turned the way we operate upside down. Four years ago, the mandatory BAT on all new construction was rolled out with only six months to train, hire and retool to meet the demand, only to have the regulation rolled back three years later with only two months’ notice, all because there was a new state administration that felt we didn’t need it. Meanwhile, many businesses invested millions of dollars to meet the need, and now all that equipment can be put against the hedgerow to grow weeds. These changes were based on politics and not on science.

Our crew includes: Jeanettea Williams works in the office to keep my books straight, schedule work, and keep me straight. I also have one assistant in the field, Matthew Kidd.

Typical day on the job: Pretty much every day we’re heading in the direction of an alarm call. These automated systems all have alarms, and when the red light’s flashing and the buzzer’s buzzing, they call me. We go out to the site and repair what we can. I try to carry enough parts to fix most malfunctions. Some systems operate with blowers, some with pumps and others aerators. It could be a float, relay, clogged pipe, broken pipe. When we’re done with the alarm call we catch a couple routine services on the way home to fill the day out.

The job I’ll never forget: A homeowner had something installed 20 years ago, a Bio-Microbics pretreatment unit and a Geoflow drip dispersal system, and he did absolutely no service in 20 years. He said it was working fine when it was actually running down over the hill. He had built a shed over the treatment unit, including the blower, to hide the unit, then filled the shed with junk that buried the components. He fenced in the drip dispersal system into a horse paddock. The horses busted up all the headworks and relief valves. He called me because he was selling the property and needed the system certified for property transfer. When he called, he informed me that there was “nothing wrong” with the system and it was “working fine.” It cost him $7,000 to repair the system that was “working fine.”

My favorite piece of equipment: I’m happy with my service truck I set up myself. I’ve been driving it about a year. It’s a Nissan NV2500 equipped with an Adrian Steel shelf package. I had an 1,800-watt inverter with ship-to-shore hookup installed that allows me to leave my chargers working when the truck is parked for the night. This also allows me to plug in an electric heater during those cold winter nights and keep my water tank from freezing. The 100-gallon aluminum water tank with a 12-volt pump allows me to clean filters and other parts at the site where pressurized water access is limited. I had the tank manufactured at a local welding shop with my design, and installed and plumbed it myself. I couldn’t find an upfitter to do it. I also added insulation and plywood walls to help hold in the heat in winter and hold out the heat in summer. I recently had it painted with some awesome graphics from a local graphic artist, Jack of Arts.

Most challenging site I’ve worked on: The house was on a hill off the street. There was a steep bank in front of the house and about 20 feet from the porch to the crest. On the left side of the front yard was a steep bank down to the driveway. On the right side, there was about 40 feet to the property line with a large tree in the middle of the side yard. I had to put a trench across the front of the house and a tank in the right-side yard. I had to dig the whole system backward. All of the materials in and spoils out had to go through that right-side yard and through the backyard. I had to pull all the dirt to me and then throw it up the hill. I had to dump the stone in the front of the trench, and then straddle the ditch and throw the stone to the back of the trench, then set the tank. I did this all with a John Deere 510B with extendable dipper stick.

The craziest question I’ve been asked by a customer: A customer had a frog in their second-story toilet. They tried to tell me there was something wrong with the septic tank that let the frog in. Of note, they had three boys between the ages of 6 and 11.

If I could change one industry regulation, it would be: I wish the politicians and government appointees would call on our organization and bring us to the table before they make changes, not after. The tendency is they bring us to the table after they have made up their minds just to tell us about it. We can voice any complaints we want but the decision’s already been made. We have a good rapport with the agency supervisors (permanent employees). They come to our meetings and work with us to improve the onsite industry, from the private side to the public side. But they can only work within the parameters their higher-ups set. I feel we have a good group of public and private sector representatives that participate with us.

Best piece of small-business advice I’ve heard: It was from my dad — treat every customer with the utmost respect.

If I wasn’t working in the wastewater industry, I would: Be doing construction of some kind.

Crystal ball time — this is my outlook for the wastewater industry: I think that the wastewater industry is getting much more automated and much more technical. So, in the future we’ll see more and more demand for more technically trained individuals.
- Compiled by Betty Dageforde


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