Decentralized Wastewater Systems Make Sense in Alberta

‘With a well-trained professional organization of contractors and maintenance professionals, our industry can provide environmentally and socially responsible solutions to wastewater treatment.’

Decentralized Wastewater Systems Make Sense in Alberta

Name and title or job description: Kraig Rakowski, operations manager

Business name and location: Rockyview Aqua, a rural area in Calgary, Alberta

Services we offer: Our main operations are running vacuum trucks for maintaining residential septic systems. We also haul from residential and commercial holding tanks, do system maintenance and repairs on components (pumps, floats, alarms, etc.) and perform real estate septic system inspections.

Age: 38

Years in the industry: I started helping my father when I was a boy, about 30 years ago, and moved into the industry full time after university 16 years ago.

Association involvement: I’ve been on the Alberta Onsite Wastewater Management Association board of directors for seven years and sit on various committees within the association.

Benefits of belonging to the association: I have been involved directly with industry feedback requests of the association by various levels of government. Staying ahead of and informing/influencing regulations is important to our industry, our membership and the public at large. The support of our association to our members and students is also incredibly valuable. Through the training we provide, we create the high-caliber contractors of tomorrow, and the continuing education keeps our industry at the leading edge of onsite science.

Biggest issue facing your association right now: The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are testing every industry in the world, including onsite wastewater. It’s nice to be part of the wastewater industry during these times, as we can still be valuable and contribute. Wastewater, whether residential or commercial, still requires treatment, so our industry is truly an “essential service.” There are a lot of people hurting financially from these times, which will affect their financial priorities and their ability to pay for memberships or education. The association is creating payment programs and other creative options to continue to assist and support our members and the industry.

Our crew includes: My father, Albert Rakowski, is the owner. And our two indispensable employees are Nicholas McIlhargey and Jonathan Cadotte.

Typical day on the job: I jump between running the business from my home or shop office and doing work in the vacuum trucks or service trucks.

The job I’ll never forget: At the end of June 2013, southern Alberta got hit with unprecedented rains that flooded rivers and watersheds, which then poured into the surrounding towns. Calgary’s downtown was completely flooded. Waste and water treatment plants were overwhelmed with floodwater. Floodwater was entering residences and businesses through their septic and sewer systems. It was pandemonium. Anyone with a vacuum truck, water truck, access to pumps or generators was running ragged helping out who they could. There were many days on end where we would run on minimal sleep. Everyone running vacuum truck equipment lived in their rigs until things became a bit more manageable. It was an unforgettable time that affected a lot of people.

My favorite piece of equipment: Operating our four vacuum trucks is the lion’s share of what we do, so keeping them in their best shape and operating them safely and efficiently is our pride. Enough time spent in your truck and you can feel, hear — sometimes even smell — what’s going on with them.

Most challenging site I’ve worked on: The most difficult sites are the systems that are in a bad state of disrepair or have failed. We often have to walk the line of doing the best possible job given the conditions and circumstances while considering both the wants of the homeowner and any possible environmental and health/safety consequences. Sometimes the solution is working with a homeowner to improve a system (or their use of it) with knowledge, maintenance or components; sometimes it can be informing customers of the need for a new system and pointing them in the direction of a designer or installer. It can be a challenge to deal with a homeowner who isn’t prepared financially or otherwise for a large potential expense when they may not consider their onsite system to be as vital of a utility as we know it to be.

Oops, I wish I could take this one back: We deal primarily with residential customers doing small-scale service jobs, and we do a large volume of tanks. With that high volume of personal interactions, you occasionally deal with conflicts, whether it be unreasonable requests, payment issues or even mistakes made by someone on site. I try not to let the 1% that are negative interactions take away from or interfere with the 99% of positive ones.

The craziest question I’ve been asked by a customer: I have 10 vats full of homemade wine downstairs that turned into vinegar. Can I dump them into the tank?

If I could change one industry regulation, it would be: I’d like to see some changes in the regulations from Alberta Environment regarding land application of residential wastewater. We have lots of room here for land application on agricultural land, but some of the regulations are quite restrictive. The Alberta Onsite Wastewater Management Association has had the privilege and opportunity to give industry feedback and work with the Alberta government to assist in and inform some of these regulations. We’ve been putting a lot of effort into trying to educate and make science- and evidence-based arguments to achieve reasonable criteria, which we feel would be of great benefit to the industry, environment and public.

Best piece of small-business advice I’ve heard: It’s pretty simple but important: “You take care of the business, and the business will take care of you.” My father said it just in passing years ago, and it always stuck with me.

If I wasn’t working in the wastewater industry, I would: I have a degree in geology from the University of Calgary, so I was heading in that direction before I smartened up and went into wastewater.

Crystal ball time – This is my outlook for the wastewater industry: I am a big proponent of decentralization in the wastewater industry. Large-scale facilities shed all of the water and nutrients outside of their environment of origin. This makes for an easy “flush and forget” culture, but it is not a long-term solution in many situations. These centralized facilities require massive budgets for capital, operations and maintenance and are often undersized even from the start. They can also be a larger environmental risk when failures do occur, such as the Calgary flood of 2013. There are constant technological advances in the onsite industry, making them more scalable to community levels. With a well-trained professional organization of contractors and maintenance professionals, our industry can provide environmentally and socially responsible solutions to wastewater treatment in an ever-increasing variety of ways. 

- Compiled by Betty Dageforde


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