A Three-Tiered Approach to Septage Disposal

Planning ahead and having multiple options for septage treatment and disposal keeps busy Metro-Rooter efficient and productive.
A Three-Tiered Approach to Septage Disposal
The onsite lift station on the Metro-Rooter property, which discharges the final wastewater product to the city collection system.

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When Tom McLaughlin started Certified Environmental Services in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1978, he was the only employee. “I realized there was money to be made,” he says. “I got a ’67 VW bus and tools from the flea market … and off I went!”

Today the company, now known as Metro-Rooter Plumbing Service, has 54 employees and provides plumbing contracting, lift station operations and repair, pumping services, septic and drainfield installations, industrial pipe cleaning and video, along with underground utility contracting.

And while all septic firms face the conundrum of where to dispose of waste, McLaughlin has put a lot of time, research and investment into septage disposal management – the company disposes of about 20,000 gallons per day. To that end, he utilizes three primary disposal sites, including one on his own 7.3-acre property. Metro-Rooter’s vacuum trucks (with a variety of Jurop/Chandler, Challenger from National Vacuum Equipment, Wallenstein and Masport pumps) consist of two Vac-Cons, three tankers, eight 4,000-gallon trucks, two 3,500-gallon trucks and a 2,000-gallon truck. Half of the trucks have jetter systems and carry freshwater in separate tanks. Two 1,000-gallon trucks are used for inside grease traps and used cooking oil. Most of the larger trucks have the hydraulic pumper dumper feature.

“We like the Keith Huber units and Vacutrux Limited from Canada. We also have an RS Technical Services camera truck and camera trailer,” says McLaughlin.

Like most pumpers, Metro-Rooter uses a city facility (in Jacksonville) and pays a dumping fee. But McLaughlin also uses dewatering boxes on his site to improve the quality of what they send to the treatment plant. “Right now, we are employing used boxes, but soon we will upgrade to Flo Trend Systems, which we discovered at the WWETT Show in February,” he adds. 

“We are using our facility and learning how to do it and improve it; the city restricts the condition of the sewage you put in the lift station; we have to clean it up sufficiently to meet those standards,” he says. “We are kind of learning as we go.”

On their own site, they degrit and remove the heavy material/debris from the septage. “We remove the heavy solids and then we have a pre-industrial treatment permit; we have a lift station on site that we discharge to.” The Department of Environmental Protection-rated lift station has two 10 hp Pentair-Myers pumps, a NEMA 4x stainless steel enclosure, duplex control panel and a 15-foot by 8-foot wet well. The cost for the lift station, including installation, was approximately $125,000.

McLaughlin estimates it costs about 2.5 cents per gallon to treat on his site, and the price is trending up as they increase the volume and efficiency on the site’s pretreatment system.

Metro-Rooter also has an active Department of Health permit, which only allows for 10,000 gallons per day. They spread lime-stabilized septage over pastures at the nearby Diamond D Ranch, at a cost of about 2 cents per gallon. McLaughlin says they dump about 121,000 gallons per month. “It kind of varies a little bit,” he says.

They used to have a permit for 50,000 gallons per day at the ranch, but state Department of Environmental Protection now significantly regulates land spreading, making it impossible for them to meet setbacks and other limits. Every year, McLaughlin says, the Legislature threatens to halt land spreading entirely.

“They’ve certainly expressed an intent to do that,” says McLaughlin. “We are trying to be prepared for the future, which may dictate that there is not land spreading.” But he’s not thrilled about that happening.

“It is the most effective, safest (way to dispose of septage) … in my opinion.”

Right now, about 25 percent of the waste Metro-Rooter collects goes to Diamond D, 40 percent is treated at their site and the balance goes to the city.

With the future of land spreading tenuous and costs of disposal likely to rise, McLaughlin says many other pumpers may not be as forward thinking or proactive about these issues. But he is looking to the future for more disposal options, including ways in which the solids can be converted to fuel.

He is now researching different kinds of polymerization and putting waste in dewatering boxes, where the water and solids are separated. “The water that comes out is in very good shape,” he says, and then it goes to the lift station on his property. 

“This is something that we’re moving toward. We’re heading in that direction; we can treat more septage, and it would be acceptable to the city system.” 


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