Synopsis: The size of a drain field for a property not connected to a sewer depends on the quality of water being dispersed into it.

The BioBarrier® membrane bioreactor’s ability to treat wastewater to a nearly potable standard diminishes the minimum necessary drain field size, ideal for properties with smaller lots.

“Did you hear that the Willer Mansion is for sale?”

Shelby Gaylon was back in her Midwestern hometown for one of her very infrequent, very short visits. Now the question, posed innocently at lunch by her oldest friend in the world, Marty DiNalto, made Shelby drop her fork in her salad.

She stared at Marty and managed a single syllable response while holding her breath, “What?!”

“Breathe, girlfriend! Yes, that big house you’ve had your sights set on since we used to walk past it in junior high—it’s for sale. But before you get too excited, let me tell you all the reasons you don’t even want to think about it.”

The warning fell on deaf ears. The minute she heard the words “for sale,” Shelby felt she was already the owner. Her imagination raced forward. Suddenly in her mind there were no barriers that could come between her and the Willer Mansion.

Not the fact that she was a well-respected executive chef at a celebrated restaurant 750 miles away. “I spend 16 hours a day in that restaurant. I need a new challenge.”

Not the fact that she was currently in negotiations to become a regular guest chef on Fresh Food, a popular cable cooking show. “Maybe we could do the show from the Willer Mansion!”

And not even the fact that two decades ago she’d decided somewhat sadly that her ambitions were bigger than the opportunities offered in her hometown could ever be. “Maybe Brinker is finally coming into its own…OR…maybe I can help it get there!”

Throughout college studies in hospitality management and during stints at renowned culinary schools in France and Italy, Shelby had dreamed of someday owning a dual business: a bed and breakfast that was also an elite cooking school. In her mind, it had always looked like the Willer Mansion.

Marty’s voice broke through her thoughts. “I know that look. You’re already organizing the kitchen and planning menus, aren’t you?”

Shelby sighed, turned to her friend, and said, “Ok, DiNalto, tell me the pitfalls.”

If anyone would know, Marty DiNalto would. Unlike Shelby, Marty had returned to Brinker right after college, married her high school sweetheart who was now the mayor of Brinker. She’d studied environmental science and subsequently earned a law degree. Now she was a recognized force in environmental circles, frequently traveling to the state capitol to lobby state lawmakers for more eco-friendly legislation.

Environmental Challenges

“There are many,” Marty stated. “To begin with, the acreage around the mansion will be designated a wildlife sanctuary and the lot that remains with the mansion is pretty small. That B&B of your dreams would require lots of bathrooms, and the plumbing demands for your cooking school would be another challenge. And, in case you didn’t realize, it’s not on city sewers.”

“Is there anything in the plus column?” Shelby asked.

“Amazingly, the structure is very sound. They truly don’t build them like that any more. The old root cellar has the potential to be an incredible wine cellar. And the kitchen, although ancient, is huge. It would look terrific with hanging copper pots and demonstration mirrors.”

“You’ve been inside?” Shelby asked. It had been one of their favorite childhood pastimes to imagine what life must be like inside that big house.

“Yes! My brother Brian—you knew he is a realtor, right?—has the listing. He thinks it’s a white elephant. But if you’re sure you want to see it, I’ll give little brother a call.”

“Yes!” Shelby nodded, “as soon as possible. I’m back on a plane in two days.”

“In that case, I think I’ll ask a colleague to join us there. If you’re going to be serious about this, you need to know what you’re up against.”

An Unexpected Helper

When Shelby drove her rental car to the Willer Mansion the next afternoon, she shivered and felt goose bumps rise, partly because the next couple of hours could be a significant turning point in her life. And partly because a blue and silver figure was descending slowly from the sky toward where Marty waited with the house key.

Shelby walked up to them, gave her friend a hug and furtively whispered in her ear, “You might have given me a heads up, DiNalto!”

“Shelby, I’d like you to meet Robust. He’s been an invaluable resource in helping us determine commercial and residential wastewater treatment guidelines and legislative codes statewide. Oh, by the way, he’s a B.O.T.”

Shelby was accustomed to dignitaries visiting the restaurant, requesting to meet the executive chef. Shelby was unfazed by such visits, even when the President’s entourage came through the kitchen. But now all she could do was stare at the figure in front of her and repeat, “B.O.T.?”

“BioMicrobics On-site Technician,” Robust explained. “Wastewater handling and treatment is my area of expertise. Marty was telling me you have big aspirations for a bed and breakfast and cooking school here at this great old house. She thought I might be a good reality check.”

Marty said, “Remember I told you that most of the Willer property will be dedicated to a nature reserve? Even though this looks like a plantation, the amount of land left with the house is only the size of a small lot in town.”

Robust added, “The key question is whether there’s enough land to allow for an adequate dispersal field for a septic system handling the wastewater, based on the number of bedrooms and kitchen demands.”

“I’ll need lots of bathrooms,” Shelby said, woefully. “And sinks.”

Shelby’s head was spinning and her hopes plummeting. “How do we find that out?”

“This is why I invited Robust,” Marty said.

A Robust Solution

“A procedure called a Ksat test would determine the saturated hydraulic conductivity of the soil; in other words, how fast does moisture travel through the soil. Here, this visual might help.”

Robust lightly tapped his shoulder and a display screen opened on his torso. He began explaining the diagram on the display. “The test is actually fairly simple. Civil engineers know it well and use it to determine rainwater absorption. One ring is pushed into the ground surrounded by a larger ring. Water is poured into the smaller ring until it infiltrates the outer ring to indicate the rate of saturation. Then a formula is applied to determine the area needed to absorb water based on the soil’s saturation rate and the projected water usage.”

Shelby sighed deeply, “But if the lot size is puny—and you said it is—and the water use is ample—which I know it will be—well, it seems pretty hopeless, doesn’t it?”

A smile began to form on Marty’s face. “Don’t give up so fast, Chef Shelby! This is an enlightened state when it comes to such things, especially if we factor in a formidable reinforcement.”

“Now what’s up your sleeve?” Shelby asked, not daring to get her hopes up again.

The visual display on Robust’s torso changed as he continued his explanation.

“Marty is referring to a BioBarrier® Membrane BioReactor. It’s a wastewater treatment system that you can piggyback to a septic system. It filters the wastewater to near drinking water standards before it’s diffused into the dispersal fields. And cleaner wastewater can require a smaller dispersal field.”

“Are you saying that if a BioBarrier® were added to this septic system, the lot might be big enough to accommodate what I want to do here?”

Marty grinned bigger, “Indeed it might! New guidelines in this state allow smaller-sized lots for septic systems, based on the anticipated gallons-per-day usage, when a treatment system like BioBarrier® is part of the design. This could be your ticket home, Shelby! Now, are we going inside or what?”

Shelby raced up the steps to the front door.

Fingers Crossed

On the plane back to the city, Shelby reviewed the whirlwind details of the last couple days. Marty had been right about the Willer Mansion. The structure was unbelievably sound and Shelby could visualize a cooking class in progress in the huge kitchen and guests gathered around breakfast tables in the solarium.

She’d made an offer on the property, contingent on the results of the Ksat test. Marty and her local connections had been invaluable, recommending the engineers and contractors that would help transform the property into her lifelong vision.

Shelby had met with Robust (who soon seemed less like a B.O.T. and more like a lifelong friend) to determine the BioBarrier® capacity needed to accommodate the proposed number of guest bedrooms and bath suites (six, they’d speculated), and the projected gallons per day usage. He had promised to let her know if the lot would support her plans as soon as the test results were available.

It was the usual hectic Friday night at La Petite Pomme, the five-star restaurant where Shelby had evolved from a star-struck apprentice chef to a culinary superstar. Despite attempts to keep her imminent departure from the media, the city had somehow gotten wind of her finite tenure at the trendy restaurant and reservations had become practically impossible to obtain.

Your Waiter Tonight…Floats.

At the kitchen’s helm, Shelby had achieved a restaurant’s ultimate sweet spot, precisely timing dishes to allow diners the illusion of enjoying a leisurely meal while turning the tables expeditiously to accommodate waiting patrons. The kitchen was as tightly choreographed as a ballet. And Shelby was acutely attuned to its rhythms. So she was instantly aware of the shift in sound levels coming from the front of the restaurant. She peered out anxiously in time to see Robust making his way to the kitchen, gliding in his hover board way of moving without a hover board.

The dining room fell completely silent, with all eyes on the B.O.T.

He glanced at Shelby, made a subtle thumbs-up gesture. She motioned him into the kitchen. Conversation levels in the dining room gradually returned to normal.

“I have good news for you,” he said.

Shelby immediately guessed what he meant.

“Excellent!” she exclaimed, “but It’s crazy busy tonight. Can you stay until the evening is a little more controlled so I can hear all the details without distractions?”

“Sure. How can I help?”

“Actually, it’d be a hoot if you’d take this entree to table three” She pointed out its location on a diagram. “That’s the pesky food editor from Restaurant Buzz who keeps trying to get details about my leaving—as well as a comp meal. Let’s give him something else to write about.”

Once again the dining room fell silent as Robust glided to the table and, with a flourish, presented the dish to the wide-eyed diner.

While Shelby directed the kitchen, Robust maneuvered smoothly among the tables, refilling water glasses.

“Providing clean, fresh water—I’m a natural at this!” he cheerfully informed Shelby.

Victory for the BioBarrier

When the last remaining diners were lingering over their coffee, Shelby led Robust into her office. He handed her a folder of test results, calculations, and reports and said, “You’ll want these when you meet with your contractors, but the bottom line is, yes, that postage stamp size of a lot will provide a big enough dispersal field provided you add a treatment system like BioBarrier® to the septic system to improve the quality of the discharge water.”

He further explained how an investment in BioBarrier® could actually extend the life of a septic system. And he promised to be available when work began in earnest on the Willer Mansion.

She thanked him for his problem-solving help with the property and for being the most efficient busboy she’d ever worked with, albeit for a single evening. From her office window, she watched his characteristic glide into the night sky until the lights of the city no longer reflected off his metallic exterior.

She turned to her computer when she heard the familiar ping that indicated a news feed about her or her restaurant.

She wasn’t too surprised to see that it was the nightly feed from Restaurant Buzz entitled “At Dinner Tonight.”

She read with amusement: Rumors are swirling that robots will soon be filling the upcoming vacancy of Shelby Gaylon, creative executive chef at the very popular La Petite Pomme. In fact, your reporter was there to witness one robot being initiated into busy Friday night operations at the trendy eatery.

“I guess we certainly did give him something new to write about tonight,” she laughed to herself.

Then she checked the reservation list for the next night. Under special requests where diners could indicate if they were celebrating an anniversary or other occasion, several had amended their reservations to read, “Please seat me in the robot’s section.”

She was still chuckling when she entered the waiting cab and headed home.