Designer Certification Ensures Quality Onsite Systems for Homeowners

It’s still slow going, but Saskatchewan is moving toward better system design requirements

Designer Certification Ensures Quality Onsite Systems for Homeowners

In 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 Saskatchewan Onsite Wastewater Management Association.

Name and title or job description: Travis Wolfe, project manager

Business name and location: Anderson Pump House, a division of Aquifer Distribution, both family-owned Saskatchewan companies, with locations in Saskatoon, North Battleford, Prince Albert and Regina.

Services we offer: We are a distributor for pumps, water treatment, wastewater and plumbing equipment. 

Years in the industry: 20

Association involvement: I became a member of the Saskatchewan Onsite Wastewater Management Association (SOWMA) in 2008 when it started. I’ve been the president for the last three years.

Benefits of belonging to the association: The association helps professionalize the wastewater industry. We offer a practitioner training program that is recognized in the western provinces, and we offer education days to promote good practices. SOWMA has been a strong influencer in the industry for protecting groundwater aquifers by promoting wastewater treatment instead of wastewater disposal.

Biggest issue facing your association right now: In Saskatchewan, it is not regulated that a contractor needs to be certified to design or install wastewater systems. So we still have some systems being installed by noncertified people who do not fully understand the Saskatchewan Onsite Wastewater Disposal Guide. Our province recently combined all 12 previous health regions together, but even under one region, the guidelines are not being consistently followed or enforced. For example, some areas would only approve designs by certified contractors, while other areas don’t recognize the value of this at all. Most homeowners do not realize this and can see huge price differences because one contractor knows how to implement the guidelines, while another just meets minimum guideline standards. Homeowners do not know that satisfying minimum guideline standards does not guarantee a wastewater system will work.

Our crew includes: Our foreman at Anderson Pump House, Guy Steel, has played a huge role in our service department. His experience and product knowledge gained over the last 20 years have been very valuable to us. Two local health officers, Roger Piatt and Ken Startup, have been leaders in promoting SOWMA guidelines on how to properly design and install wastewater systems.

Typical day on the job: Most of my day is spent selling, designing, quoting and troubleshooting water and wastewater systems. But I also get to break out of the office to perform site visits or commission projects.

The job I’ll never forget: Early in my career, I worked as a summer laborer — my first lift station job. Our project included replacing the pumps, rails and piping. First we had to remove the old equipment, which definitely didn’t look new anymore. I quickly realized that designing and sales looked a lot less dirty.

My favorite piece of equipment: The SJE Rhombus pump control products have lots of options that make contractor jobs very easy. Plus, Goulds, Myers and Barnes have developed very reliable pump options.

Most challenging site I’ve worked on: While it’s not necessarily challenging, the most exciting project involves working with some of our First Nation communities. Lately they have been very interested in learning how to implement the new Saskatchewan Onsite Wastewater Guidelines for their residential sites.

Oops, I wish I could take this one back: I think the industry got a black eye because of the premature failure of some of the systems that were designed 20 years ago using percolation tests. Most contractors now realize that test pits and soil investigation provide better information for protecting the water aquifers and environment.

The craziest question I’ve been asked by a customer: A homeowner drove over his Type II mound with a large tractor and broke the header pipe. The Type II mound was originally installed by one of our contractors. The homeowner asked if we would fix the broken pipe under warranty because the contractor didn’t install it correctly. Obviously the contractor wasn’t going to fix the pipe for free, so the homeowner figured we were responsible because the materials came from us.

If I could change one industry regulation, it would be: All acreage owners should be required to present a copy of their wastewater system design before they can sell their acreage. I think this would help prevent cheaper systems from being installed and protect the homeowners.

Best piece of small business advice I’ve heard: Be honest, admit your mistakes and try your best to help people. That usually opens the door for opportunity and allows you to have some fun at work.

If I wasn’t working in the wastewater industry, I would: Designing systems and helping people size multiple equipment so they work together properly has been very enjoyable, so if I weren’t doing this it would have to be another industry that included both designing and sales.

Crystal ball time – This is my outlook for the wastewater industry: I think we are going in the right direction in Saskatchewan. Most wastewater contractors in our province became certified before the government even required it. Contractors want this industry to become more professionalized, which would benefit homeowners with better wastewater systems and protect the environment. 


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