Bring Back Required Maintenance for Aerobic Systems

It was a ‘disaster’ when the Texas Legislature eliminated mandated care for advanced systems and let homeowners take over monitoring.

Bring Back Required Maintenance for Aerobic Systems

Megan, Al, Vonda and Eric Bob with dog Sassy. 

Name and title or job description: Brian Wakefield, owner

Business name and location: B & J Wakefield Services, Waxahachie, Texas

Age: 46

Years in the industry: 18

Association involvement: I’ve been a member of the Texas Onsite Wastewater Association for about 16 years. I’ve been on the board for about 12 of it and have held the president position. I was also interim treasurer for a while.

Benefits of belonging to the association: Having more knowledge about the industry, getting involved with legislation, getting to know other people in the field and knowing who to call throughout the state if something comes up. We get involved with the politics side of it when we need to or when we need assistance when something arises.

Biggest issue facing your association right now: There aren’t really big issues, but we work with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, writing new rules or adjusting the rules that are already there. They’ve invited us to make policy changes wherever we see fit, because we are considered the experts in the business, and then they go over our recommendations. For example, licenses for pumping technicians require background checks, but the sludge transporters who are accessing the same septic systems do not have to go through background checks. The commission basically forgot to include them. So we’re going to help the commission figure out how to pull the sludge transporters in with this industry and make those changes.

Our crew includes: Holly Wakefield, my wife, is the office manager. Charla Aguilar works in the office part time. Willard Cavitt and Hermillo Aguilar are repair technicians and do installs. Chuck Vineyard inspects and maintains the aerobic septic systems. I also use a couple of part-time contract laborers, as needed. On the pumping side, we’re between drivers right now, but hopefully we’ll have someone starting soon. If not, I’ll be driving that truck and one of the techs or laborers will assist me. It’s a hard position to fill.

Typical day on the job: I get in early in the morning and give everybody their schedules, basically setting routes and assigning work. And then I go wherever I’m needed, whether it’s on an install or if I need to be pumping or assisting on repairs. It’s whoever needs help that day or if they need to use my brain on a more intricate job to help think it through.

Helping hands - Indispensable crew member: Cavitt has been with me the longest, four or five years. He’s like my right-hand man. He can take care of things and is to the point where I don’t have to worry about him.

The job I’ll never forget: A couple years ago, about 1,000 immigrant children from Central America arrived at a nearby church camp. They were staying all over the place out there and using the facilities, which overloaded the system. The camp had a 50,000-gallon lift station, and all three water pumps started clogging and went down. We had to rush out there. It was literally chaos. The news crews were there, and the police department and helicopters were out there for security. The pumps were deep in the sewer. Our sludge truck couldn’t vacuum fast enough so we had to put new pumps in temporarily. That’s how fast the sewage was coming in. We piped them out of the tank and over to the wastewater treatment plant directly. It took us a day or two to get that all figured out, but once we did, we got everything back to normal.

My favorite piece of equipment: I like my mini-excavator (Kubota). It’s a good, versatile machine. Along with our Kubota skid-steer, those two seem to work for us very well for most jobs.

Most challenging site I’ve worked on: There was a project about 12 years ago where we had to put in an aerobic septic system on a hillside. We had to hold the retaining wall back while we put it in. You put one outrigger on the backhoe, you set one outrigger on the ground, and that’s what held you. It was kind of nerve-wracking. It was actually for a home they never ended up finishing. So, we put a new system in that’s never been used. It was back before the economy fell but the banks were getting skeptical. It cost so much to build a house on a hillside that the bank quit giving them money.

The craziest question I’ve been asked by a customer: Sometimes when we get done with a job, someone will say, “Do I have to pay that?” They think just because they pay our cheapest maintenance plan where we go out and inspect the systems, that everything’s covered.

If I could change one industry regulation, it would be: To require mandatory maintenance on the aerobic septic systems — again. It used to be mandatory, but a state legislator slid a bill in at the last minute changing it and allowing homeowners to do their own maintenance on their systems. A few individual counties and cities have since started requiring it, but the state does not make it mandatory. We walk into areas that don’t require it that are disasters — whole neighborhoods. The homeowners don’t want to spend the money. The association is working on it indirectly but it involves state legislation, and anytime you introduce a new bill, anything can change at any time. You can write a bill called A and it comes out looking like Z.

Best piece of small-business advice I’ve heard: “Stay honest.” It’s just something I’ve always heard and gone by. “Keep your business honest. That’s the best policy.”

If I wasn’t working in the wastewater industry, I would: Before I got into this business, I was a truck driver in the LTL (less than truckload) business, so that’s possibly what I’d be doing. On the side, I was a real-estate inspector and learned enough about septics that I was able to inspect them and do maintenance, and then that business just took over.

Crystal ball time – This is my outlook for the wastewater industry: Hopefully we’ll eventually have more technology controlling and monitoring our systems because it is an environmental issue when these things fail. ν



Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.