The Missouri Smallflows Organization Promotes Onsite Regulation Updates

While the industry advances, inspector Rick Wilcockson says the state is playing catch-up with wastewater rules that haven’t changed since 1996

The Missouri Smallflows Organization Promotes Onsite Regulation Updates

Rick Wilcockson (Owner/Inspector)

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In States Snapshot, we talk to a member of a state, provincial or national trade association in the decentralized wastewater industry. This time we visit a member of the Missouri Smallflows Organization.

Name and title or job description: Rick Wilcockson, owner/inspector

Business name and location: Accurate Septic & Well Inspections and Eastern Missouri Water Lab, Troy, Missouri

Services we offer: I’m a licensed third-party inspector. We provide onsite septic system inspections, well assessments and water samples for existing home sales. We also offer water lab services so we can take water samples for the onsite inspections and do those in an 18- to 24-hour turnaround. Any time you do a septic inspection where there’s also a water well, you do a well inspection and take a water sample to make sure the drinking water doesn’t have coliform bacteria or E. coli.

Age: 60

Years in the industry: 24

Association involvement: I’ve been a member of the Missouri Smallflows Organization on and off for 20 years and currently serve as chairman of the education committee. I’m also on the stakeholders committee of the Missouri Department of Health’s onsite program.

Benefits of belonging to the association: Continuing education and keeping up with legislative requirements are two benefits. We also get to see new products from vendors and how they’re used to improve the onsite industry during our annual conference.

Biggest issue facing your association right now: We’re looking for legislative changes in the law. The current requirements have been in place since January 1996. We would like to see them updated. The Missouri Smallflows Organization is working with key personnel to help put needed changes in place.

Our crew includes: Chris Mattingly, inspector; Amy Smith, office manager/lab technician; and Steve Corrier, technical adviser

Typical day on the job: I’m up at 5 a.m. I read the news, review jobs and then head to the office where I check emails and voicemails before I hit the road. My inspections are usually at 9 a.m., noon and 3 p.m. As part of my duties for the stakeholders committee, sometimes I take new inspectors with me to do ride-alongs for education. One of the most rewarding things about the job is educating new people. We also pride ourselves on educating buyers, sellers and agents.

The job I’ll never forget: At one site, I fell through a metal tank and was chest-deep in sewage. We were digging the tank up and when I stood on top of it, it caved in. That’s why it’s important to have your hepatitis shot. We’ve also had jobs where people ran us off the job site and told us we were going to burn in hell. I’ve had my tires slashed four times; I’ve been held at gunpoint four times; I’ve been attacked by dogs. When you tell people their system is failing and in order for it to meet the inspection criteria they’re going to need a new drainfield, which can be $10,000, they get very angry and upset.

My favorite piece of equipment: Five years ago, my daughter had to drag me into the modern world kicking and screaming, but we started using Microsoft Surface Pro tablets with Inspection Support Network software and doing our reports electronically. It’s wonderful. It makes writing reports very easy and you’ve got everything right there. It’s $4 for an inspection and everything’s saved on the cloud. You don’t have all those paper files anymore.

Most challenging site I’ve worked on: Systems that are 60-plus years old are always challenging. Everything is like finding the lost Ark. Sometimes it’s impossible to find any kind of drainfield. The tanks do not have risers. You have to probe and look and check old records and archives if they’re available. Sometimes you run across them by accident.

Oops, I wish I could take this one back: In the early days, you could do an evaluation without looking inside the tank. In one case, the people had put concrete blocks over a 300-gallon steel tank so when we measured it with our probing rod, it appeared to be a 1,000-gallon tank. They also had a fake pumping receipt.

Another example — again, in the early days when I was an environmental public health specialist — there was a new lagoon that was put in and graded. It was getting dark, but the people said they were closing on it the next day and couldn’t wait. So I went out there and had a big lighting unit put on it. I walked around the lagoon and inspected it. About two weeks after they moved in, the lagoon was leaking through the bank. I pay for my mistakes so I paid for a new drainfield. I also learned you can’t be a pleaser all the time. You have to follow the guidelines and use good judgement. Sometimes it’s wiser to turn a job down.

The craziest question I’ve been asked by a customer: I was once asked why I didn’t have the tank pumped out and then get inside it to examine it.

If I could change one industry regulation, it would be: All systems would require site-specific engineering by an experienced professional engineer and a follow-up signoff by the engineer. In the early days I didn’t believe in that, but over the years I’ve seen things go wrong and I strongly believe in it now.

Best piece of small-business advice I’ve heard: My good friend Will, an attorney, gave me some advice that has saved many business relationships and actually increased my client list. Be proactive — “Do not wait to go to the site and walk it over if there is a complaint.” Listen — “Be a good listener, and try to understand the customer’s needs.” Make it right if you made a mistake — “Get out your checkbook or repair it yourself.”

If I wasn’t working in the wastewater industry, I would: Be teaching. In the Marine Corps, I was an instructor in the Naval Aviation Maintenance School. Currently I teach a lot of classes for septic and wells. I’m an authorized trainer for the state of Missouri.

Crystal ball time – This is my outlook for the wastewater industry: We need legislative updates and closing of loopholes in our regulations. Science and technology are always changing, and we need to tailor our standards accordingly. A lot of people do this to make money, and it’s a good living. But I do it because I believe in having safe drinking water and not having sewage discharging. I’m getting more near the end of my career than the beginning and you look at it from a different perspective. 


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