Synopsis: Parental tips for Maintenance, Operation, and Management of your wastewater treatment system.

Application: There’s more to maintaining your onsite wastewater treatment system than general septic Do’s and Don’ts list in an Owner’s Manual.

Mario Smith, the first generation of Smith and Sons Plumbing, sat down at his desk, sipping fresh coffee from his “World’s Best Dad” mug and checking his wristwatch. It was 9:28 AM. The webinar was about to start.

He went to the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association’s website and clicked on a sizeable link that read, “Onsite Wastewater Maintenance Webinar, presented by BioMicrobics.” After logging in, he was looking at the title slide of the presentation with a head shot of a most peculiar-looking robotic man. He recognized him as “Robust” from a cover story in Sustainable World Magazine.

The frame at screen left showed an inactive video player beneath the word “Presenter.” Below this was a frame listing the names of everyone attending the webinar, fifty-seven in all. To the right of this was an interactive frame for questions and comments from all webinar attendees. BioMicrobics’s FAST® systems were catching on with customers, so Mario knew it would be smart—and lucrative—to learn how to maintain them. Mario needed the money these days; half of his business involved maintenance contracts of various systems and with the current economy, business was slow.

Introducing MOM

Suddenly, a voice came through Mario’s computer speakers, although the presenter’s box was still dark. “Welcome, everyone! My name’s Robust. I’m an onsite specialist from BioMicrobics, and I’ll be showing you how to properly care for a FAST® system. First and foremost, can everyone see me?”After ten or so people replied, “No,” Mario could clearly hear Robust sigh. “All, right, let’s see if I can figure out a simple webcast…how about now?” Robust asked, just as his metallic face and blue, plastic hair came into view.

“…good. Again, Welcome! Today, you will get an overview on how to be a M.O.M. to your system. As describe by its coined-phrase creator, Trapper Davis, M.O.M. stands for Maintenance, Operation, and Management. There’s more to Maintaining an onsite wastewater treatment system than general septic Do’s & Don’ts. These systems have advanced technology.”

“So, use my head…” joked Robust. “…er, I mean your head when it comes to replacing pumps, float components, and similar equipment.” Various questions popped up on the screen asking if the FAST® control panels are pre-programmed; all the circuits were already installed; if Robust’s head was NEMA 4X housing; etc. To which “yes” was typed in all responses.

When in Operation, be familiar with diagnosing problems,” Robust continued. “Then, Manage scheduling things such as filter cleaning or replacement, component inspections, and/or chemical replacement that are required at set intervals. These systems should be inspected as regulations require and pumped every 3 to 5 years. This is how you become a M.O.M.”

More Parental Advice

“Now, on to a general overview of a service maintenance call.” The presentation to the right of Robust changed to reveal a picture of a steamroller, with the title “TRAFFIC.”

“Which of your moms would run you over?” asked Robust. Jarred by this question, Mario noted no responses emanated from the attendees.

“Exactly,” Robust affirmed. “So don’t run over your system with any equipment heavier than a lawn mower. A FAST system lid has an H-10 rating. With that said, a tank with an H-20 rating can be installed under roadways. Keep a record with the location of the septic system and drain field for yourself and the homeowner.”

A question popped up in the comments section, “I mow my yard out in the country with a farm implement tractor. Will this damage the treatment unit?”

Robust replied, “The H-10 rating will support up to a 1750 pound load. Without knowing the specifics of your tractor, I can’t say for certain. Most garden tractors will not pose a hazard to your system…good question. I would suggest growing grass or small plants (not trees or shrubs) above the septic system to mark a visual location. Water conservation through creative landscaping is a great way to control excess runoff as well.”

Simple Maintenance Becomes ApPARENT

The presentation now demonstrated a computer-generated FAST® system in action. The blower in its above ground housing displayed arrows entering into the main tank’s airlift, a large, tubular structure in the middle of the blue honeycomb-like media and water rapidly dispersed over the media.

“Now, for another acronym: S.S.S. – which stands for Sight, Sound, and Smell. Look at the blower for proper functioning. See these vents on the sides of the doghouse?” asked Robust. The animation showed the green blower housing with metal louvers on the sides. “Nothing should obstruct the vents ensuring proper ventilation. Keeping these free will extend the life of the blower.”

“You should keep the blower on to provide the robust splash over the media for optimum treatment,” Robust explained. “Times you would manually turn off the blower is when you’re testing the alarm or the property will be shut down for an extended period, like seasonal use. In some cases, the blowers can be operated by a timer (called SFR®) to automatically turn on/off the blower in intervals for special cases to reduce power consumption. All FAST® control panels are equipped with this timer. Call your local distributor if you have any questions about that.”

He continued, “When you’re testing the alarm, know there’s a ten-second delay before it goes off. To silence it—and you’ll definitely want to—push the “RESET” button on the front of the control panel. Because if you don’t…” Just then, a piercing sound came through the computer, causing Mario to jump out of his seat and put his hands on his ears. A picture of an actual panel was on the screen, with an arrow pointing to the appropriate button. Robust pushed it and restored silence to his presentation.

“Just making sure you were all still awake,” he chuckled, as he continued his tutorial.

“Check for odors. If you smell odors, other than a mossy smell, call your distributor again, as there might be something wrong inside the system. Don’t worry—they’re always happy to talk. But don’t prank call them…I have learned.” He gives a mischievous robotic smile.

“This one’s basically a no-brainer,” Robust said. “The effluent should be clean enough to see through.” On the screen now was a picture of two jars of effluent. One was rather clear, while the other was obviously contaminated.

Does Your MOM Judge?

“All right, let’s move on to sludge levels. I apologize to anyone who’s eating breakfast right now. Scheduling when to pump the tank depends on the size and design of the treatment tank.” Mario was now looking at an image of a worker holding measuring tape parallel to a transparent tube (sludge judge) filled with a cross-section of sludge that was removed from the tank.

“Insert a sludge measuring device first in the trash or primary screening tank. Then, insert and measure the treatment or secondary tank in multiple places to take a complete measurement.”

“Both tanks should be pumped if the sludge is…” The slide finished his sentence for him as he read it aloud:

1) 18” deep in the primary tank or within 6” of the outlet point; OR

2) Within 3”-4” to the bottom of the FAST® unit in the treatment tank.

“…even if one tank may require to be pumped, then the other should also be. To properly measure the scenario in number two, — uh, pun intended –,” Robust chuckled again from the presentation screen, “measure the total liquid depth in the treatment tank and subtract the height of the FAST® unit from it.”

Don’t Forget to Call Your MOM

As the rest of the presentation Mario took notes carefully throughout, laughing occasionally at Robust’s unexpected remarks. “You know, this guy’s pretty funny for a robot,” Mario thought to himself.

“What are you up to, Dad?” his son, Mark, asked as he came in the room sweaty from working in the summer heat.

“Learning how to be a M.O.M.,” replied Mario, deadpan. Mark gave him a quizzical look and went back outside.

Mario smiled, sipped his coffee from his mug. “I can be pretty funny myself.” He proclaimed, “To be the best MOM, from the ‘World’s Best Dad’!”