Pumper News - March 2022

One day wastewater will be treated at home and blended with well water to create a sustainable household supply of a limited resource.

Pumper News - March 2022

  Anish Jantrania, associate professor and extension specialist at Texas A&M University, holds up a beaker of water from an onsite system during an event at the university’s On-Site Sewage Facility.

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The RELLIS Campus at Texas A&M University was forged through partnerships with the school and private companies in 2016. The campus derives its acronym name by mimicking six university core values: Respect, Excellence, Leadership, Loyalty, Integrity and Selfless service. 

Anish Jantrania, associate professor and extension specialist for Texas A&M, says he wants the RELLIS campus to become “the prime center for onsite research, extension and training.”

Jantrania directs the Texas A&M On-Site Sewage Facility program, whose training and demonstration site covers about 2 acres on the 2,000-acre RELLIS campus just outside of College Station, Texas. A prime goal of the OSSF, and of the RELLIS campus in general, is to partner with industry to advance the state of technology and develop the future workforce.

“Other places, they’re doing research, but we do mainly applied research. We want to see the research of others and technologies that other people have developed. Do they have potential to work in the real world?” he says.

In 2021 researchers were finishing three projects: blackwater recycling for non-potable reuse, improving low-pressure dosing systems, and exploring whether alternative dosing protocols can improve the effectiveness of aerobic treatment units in handling high-strength waste.

One of five Texans rely on decentralized wastewater treatment, Jantrania says. “That population is not disappearing.” Between 2010 and 2020, Texas had the third-fastest population growth of any state: 16.3%, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. 

All those people will need systems that can handle the Texas environment. Conventional septic systems, Jantrania says, have an 80-20 treatment split: 80% of treatment happens in the drainfield soil, and 20% happens in the tank. And this provides the best treatment when there is enough land (more than 1 acre) with good soil that is well drained, adequately permeable, and with little slope, he says.

“Where does that kind of land happen? That’s Iowa,” Jantrania says. In east Texas, there are more than two homes per acre, and that’s where aerobic units come in, he says. They flip treatment percentages so that 80% happens in the unit and only 20% in the soil. That means builders can erect homes where they have land or where property values are favorable, he says.

Teaching maintenance

Technology is a focus of the OSSF, but in keeping with the mission of a university, so is education.

Texas requires maintenance on aerobic units for two years and then expects homeowners to hire service providers to do the work, Jantrania says. But these rules are enforced by counties, he adds, and about 50 counties allow homeowners to do their own maintenance if they pass a training course. 

For these people, and anyone who wants to learn about operation and maintenance, the OSSF team offers in-person and virtual classes to educate people about safety when working on systems, how systems work, and how they should be maintained and inspected.

Before the pandemic, all classes were offered in-person outside the campus, but COVID forced all classes to go virtual, “And, I am glad we did that,” Jantrania says, “because now homeowners don’t have to wait for us to offer the class. They can just go online, register, pay the fees and complete the class whenever they want to do it.” 

Near the end of 2021, 100 people had completed the course virtually. That’s about one-third of what he expected, Jantrania says. But some counties prefer to have other providers offer instruction, and some counties require in-person instruction because their internet connection speeds are poor. 


The center is back in business now after a break of a few years. It was started in the early 1990s by A&M professor Bruce Lesikar, Jantrania says. “And Bruce and I pretty much started with the onsite industry at the same time. I was in West Virginia, and he was in Texas.”

When Lesikar left A&M about 2010, there was no plan to continue the center’s work, he says. University centers are just like businesses, and as with any business, he says, when there’s no money coming in the center fades. “The center literally evaporated in one year because it was not maintained.” 

At the same time, the state economy slumped so the position of OSSF extension specialist was not filled. But the public realized how important onsite knowledge is and pushed the Legislature to fund the work, he says. 

In 2013, the specialist position was funded again, and at the same time Jantrania wanted to leave his private sector job. The university provided some seed money, he says, and industry is interested in the OSSF work as is the Texas Onsite Wastewater Association. 

Research at the center is funded by a share of the $10 permit fees paid by every Texas landowner who wants to install an onsite system. Money goes to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality where it also funds other OSSF work.

OSSF is located near the wastewater treatment plant for the campus. “We got lucky because the RELLIS campus has two main sewer lines that feed the lagoon. One feeder line goes very close to our center, so we actually tapped into that line and connected our lift station to the main sewer line,” Jantrania says. Equipment at the site has access to all the wastewater needed.

Yet, because no one lives on campus, influent is not like domestic wastewater, he says. What it’s like is a very large commercial facility, such as an office complex with toilets and some food service. Researchers are exploring how they can amend the influent to resemble other types of wastewater, such as a home or restaurant.

Dry times

Now that it’s up and working, a major challenge for the OSSF will be to help people prepare for the effects of climate change. 

“Texas has seen the need for reclaimed water through drought,” Jantrania says. When he joined the university in 2014, the state was in drought and was thirsty for water, he says. Then it started raining and hasn’t stopped, he says. 

But a recent report from the state climatologist says that although precipitation has increased in eastern Texas, the same isn’t true elsewhere in the state, and the possibility of drought looks about the same for the future as it has in the past.

For Jantrania, climate change sets a goal. “At our center, we are seriously looking at onsite decentralized reuse systems.” Many people recycle water for irrigation, he says. “The big hurdle is to bring this reclaimed water inside the living facility.”

Recycled water could be used to flush toilets, but far in the future he sees complete reuse: turning onsite wastewater into potable water. 

When he was a regulator for Virginia in the late 1990s, Jantrania says, a Masonic lodge hired a professor from Maryland to build an onsite recycling system. Wastewater flows through a tank and receives some aeration before entering an artificial wetland inside a climate-controlled greenhouse.

“And it comes out really, really, really polished, like rainwater,” Jantrania says. “Every time I’m in Virginia, I visit that system. It is the cheapest, the greenest of the greenest.”  

Ideally, in the future a parcel of Texas land would have a well and a recycling system to treat wastewater to potable standard and blend it with well water or rainwater, Jantrania says. Builders will love it, he says, because it will simplify development. Instead of dealing with multiple pipes, homes will need only a compact bit of plumbing. And 90% of water will stay on the site. 

“I call it climate proofing,” Jantrania says. “We will have to have climate-proof water infrastructure.” 

That will also reduce a great risk for people, he says: In this high-tech country, we still depend on rain.  


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