Open Your Eyes and Ears and Network With Industry Experts

If only I’d sought educational opportunities sooner, I could have grown my business faster and at a younger age

Open Your Eyes and Ears and Network With Industry Experts

The crew at AAA Allied Septic Service includes, from left, Ralph Baker Dotson, Ramon Cardiel and Steve Sandoval. They are shown in the company yard with a 2006 Freightliner built out by Garsite/Progress with a 2,500-gallon aluminum tank and National Vacuum Equipment pump, as well as a 2020 Freightliner built out by KeeVac Industries with a 2,500-gallon aluminum tank and NVE blower.

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 Professional Onsite Wastewater Reuse Association of New Mexico and the Colorado Professionals in Onsite Wastewater. 

Name and title or job description: Ralph Baker Dotson, president

Business name and location: AAA Allied Septic Service, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Services we offer: Pumping, installation and maintenance of conventional, advanced, and alternative septic systems and wastewater reuse systems. We’re a maintenance service provider and do real estate transfer inspections.

Age: 52

Years in the industry: 38. I started part time with my parents when I was 14.

Association involvement: I’ve been in the Professional Onsite Wastewater Reuse Association of New Mexico, or POWRANM, for 13 years. I have served the last five years as president and have been on the board. I’m also a member of Colorado Professionals in Onsite Wastewater.

Benefits of belonging to the association: Educational classes, collaboration with colleagues and keeping up to date and informed about rule changes. We’re an affiliate of the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association, so we get its benefits as well.

Biggest issue facing your association right now: Trying to get people to give their time and get involved is a big issue. Sometimes people join for the educational benefits but then don’t participate.

Our crew includes: My wife, Gina, is my business partner and office manager. She does scheduling and paperwork and runs the finances. I could not do it without her. Our son Gino is finishing college but works summers in all aspects of the business. He plans to eventually take over the company. Steve Sandoval, our lead technician, runs the pumping and inspection side of the business. Our customers love him. James Payne, our senior technician, is our excavator and installer. Oscar Tena is our newest technician. We’re lucky to have a smart, ambitious guy like that.

Typical day on the job: I start the morning at the shop, doing paperwork, scheduling and meeting with the technicians. Then I’m off to the New Mexico Environment Department getting permits or turning in transfer evaluations. I may go to a job site to prepare an estimate or work on a design, or be out in one of the septic trucks pumping or on a site installing. In between, I’m on the phone with POWRANM board members for our weekly conversations or with the Environment Department. Then, of course, there’s always the unexpected emergency.

The job I’ll never forget: My dad passed away when I was 16, and I will always remember that first summer going out with a guy named Ed Fine who worked for my parents, really learning how to operate the backhoe. I was thrust into the work from this life-changing event, and he took me under his wings and taught me the business and helped me get a license. I’m grateful to him to this day because I learned a lot from him. With as many jobs as I’ve done that are tough and unique and fun — and I like to specialize in the hard stuff, the sites nobody else wants to touch or figure out — what sticks out is that summer and this man really being there and helping and teaching me.

My favorite piece of equipment: Most of my equipment is my favorite because I’m a really strong believer that you have to invest in and purchase the right equipment to do the job correctly. But, having said that, the new septic truck we just purchased at the NOWRA conference in Colorado and my Caterpillar excavators are my favorites. The septic truck is a 2020 Freightliner built out by KeeVac Industries with a 2,500-gallon aluminum tank and a Challenger blower (National Vacuum Equipment). I have two Caterpillar 304E excavators. And I have one Caterpillar mini-excavator, which is a lifesaver for getting into small places and saving hand-digging and hard labor for me and the crew.

Most challenging site I’ve worked on: There was a small lot in the resort town of Red River where we had to meet a setback to a national forest property, a creek, high groundwater and a river. The owners were selling the property and were told they could only have a holding tank; however, the loan institutions wouldn’t loan on a resort property using a holding tank. We designed the site with an Eliminite advanced treatment system and a low-pressure pipe system. We literally made the setback by 1 inch. The state used it as a training site for inspections. They had about 10 inspectors to evaluate and measure setbacks. And the owners were able to sell house.

Oops, I wish I could take this one back: I wish I could have been more open-minded when I was younger about the educational piece to the business. If I could go back in time and change something, it would be that instead of thinking I know a lot of things, I would have listened or sought education earlier because I think that would have grown my business faster and at a younger age and changed life for me and my family. Gene Bassett, who’s been the president of National Association of Wastewater Technicians and a NOWRA member, opened my mind and pushed me in the right direction for education.

The craziest question I’ve been asked by a customer: “Why can’t you make the water go uphill without a pump?”

If I could change one industry regulation, it would be: Requiring continuing education to renew your license. At one time it was in the regulations, but it got taken out because it was considered a dual licensing type of thing so it was never enacted. I think it would be a big benefit for everyone — for contractors in learning, for the state in having better-trained people in the industry and for the end-user consumer. One problem in New Mexico is the licensing side and the installing and pumping side of the industry are separated. The construction industry holds our license and the Environment Department issues our permits. The POWRANM has been working for years on trying to reconnect the two.

Best piece of small-business advice I’ve heard: I was visiting a plumber friend and he gave me the best advice I ever got — “Be honest and learn to say no when you have to. You can’t help everybody in their time frame.” He also emphasized “education, education, education.”

Planning for the future: The future for Gina and me is working with our son. He worked summers with us when he was in school, and then we really wanted him to go to college. He took some engineering classes for wastewater and is getting a degree in business so he could learn an aspect of the business that I didn’t learn early on. He already has NAWT pumper and inspector certifications.

If I wasn’t working in the wastewater industry, I would: Growing up in the industry, I never thought about another career — although I did actually consider becoming a priest at one point. And if things had been different, I might have ended up being a lawyer.

Crystal ball time – This is my outlook for the wastewater industry: There’s a concern about the lack of younger people getting into the industry. We’ve discussed that at NOWRA and POWRANM. You’ve got a lot of great older guys like Gene Bassett, Ralph Macchio, Tom Ferrero and all these guys who have built some professionalism for this industry. But who’s going to be there to carry that on? My concern for the future is if we don’t get younger people into the industry and get them educated, trained and involved, how will this affect our industry and will we become less professional? It’s not a glamorous industry, but it’s needed.  

Would you like to see someone in your state or provincial wastewater trade association profiled in Snapshot? Send your suggestions to Jim Kneiszel at


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