Desert Airstream Trailer Park Gets Permanent Wastewater Solution

Campers near Joshua Tree National Park aren’t roughing it, thanks to ECOPOD system

Desert Airstream Trailer Park Gets Permanent Wastewater Solution

 The original installer unpacking the ECOPODs and air blowers using a Kobelco excavator after the precast tanks were set. (Photos courtesy of Infiltrator Water Technologies)

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Airstream camping in comfort is now easier than ever at the Joshua Tree National Park AutoCamp facility, thanks to a new septic system. 

AutoCamp is a glamping (term for trendy glamorous camping) company with locations spread throughout the U.S. and outside the entrance of Joshua Tree National Park near San Bernardino, California. It’s there you will find 55 luxury Airstream campers and a main building housing a craft brewery, restaurant and food commissary, together making a large wastewater output in an area with strict treatment regulations. 

Each Airstream camper is equipped with a shower, toilet and mini kitchen producing up to 100 gpd and with so many trailers, the new system needed to handle the daily flows while providing the minimum disruption for a sensitive environment. At the newly constructed camp, the Airstream trailers are parked a minimum of 150 feet from the treatment system.

Taking over

Each Airstream and the main building facility are plumbed separately, but join before entering the first tank of the septic system. When Steve Dinwiddie, owner of Advantage Septic arrived to take over the install, the plumbing between campers was already in place. 

“Someone had started the project but couldn’t finish it. I’m not sure why, but they were having trouble finding someone who could finish it,” Dinwiddie says. “Infiltrator reached out to me because I started doing a lot of the advanced treatment system out here in Riverside County and some of the first ones in Southern California, so I had a lot of experience with it.”

Besides the plumbing between campers being hooked up, when Dinwiddie showed up the first time, the leachfield was open, but not completed, and precast concrete tanks were in position with some of the pods set in, but that’s it. 

“Two leach lines still needed to be finished, all the distribution boxes, all the tanks were in the ground with some of the pods in them, but the covers were not yet installed,” he says. “I had to come in to get the rest of the pods in the ground, get everything hooked up, do all the plumbing, install the covers and complete everything else to tie up the project.” 

System flow

Dinwiddie got to work and when he was done, the wastewater from the Airstreams and main building facility joined into a single 4-inch PVC pipe before entering a 5,000-gallon Jensen precast primary tank. “This is the primary settling tank, it acts like a septic tank,” says Chris Strycharz, sales engineer and technical support from Infiltrator. “It has about one day’s retention time to settle out the large solids.” 

Water exits the primary tank through three Polylok filters before entering a 3,000-gallon precast concrete flow equalization tank designed to buffer out the flow over a 24-hour period using a time-dosed duplex pump system with Myers WHR5-21C pumps.  

Due to total nitrogen requirements and the volume of wastewater to be treated, the system was designed with a staged denitrifying approach. Pumps move the water through a 2-inch line into the first of three precast tanks, each one housing a Delta ECOPOD unit.

The first is a 15,000-gallon reactor tank lodging an ECOPOD E1400 utilizing a fixed-film process. Water is dispersed into the ECOPOD system through 4-inch PVC tees, positioned in alternating directions across the top the tank to ensure water is evenly distributed into the unit. The unit serves as the BOD and nitrifying reactor. Air is pumped in to promote ample nitrification. 

After flowing through the E1400, water exits the precast tank through a 5-inch weir before gravity flowing through 4-inch PVC pipe to a 5,000-gallon denitrification tank housing an ECOPOD E600. In the back of this tank is a Myers WHR5-21C mixing pump to incorporate an added carbon source. 

“We mix the carbon source after the BOD and nitrification reactor to allow denitrification to occur,” Strycharz says. “Since we are adding a carbon source, we will raise the BOD again, so the next tank is to knock that back down.”

After a short pipe connection, the next stage is a 3,000-gallon re-aeration tank housing an ECOPOD E300. After re-aeration, water exits the precast tank via 3-inch discharge weir and travels through 4-inch PVC pipe into the last tank before the drainfield, a 3,000-gallon dosing tank. From this tank, water is moved by duplex demand-dosed Myers ME50S-21 pumps to a 1,300 total lineal foot crushed stone and pipe dispersal field made up of 4-inch perforated Schedule 40 PVC pipe. Drain lines are configured to not exceed 100 lineal feet each, spaced three feet on center and buried at a minimum depth of five feet. 

Once plumbing was hooked up and complete, Dinwiddie placed the lids on each precast tank, sealing off the pods for backfilling. A Cat 430 F2 backhoe did the brunt of the work for Dinwiddie and once he was done, the landowner used a skid-steer for backfilling and cleanup. 

Each ECOPOD unit requires air supplied through 3-inch airlines by two primary above ground, battery powered, 7.5 hp Gardner Denver air blowers and a 5 hp tertiary blower. 

Controlling factors 

Governing regulations for San Bernardino demand NSF 245 treatment, requiring 50% reduction for total nitrogen. And because the system is in the Joshua Basin Water District, less than 10 mg/L total nitrogen effluent is required on top of the of the county requirements. 

The Delta ECOPOD units from Infiltrator were designed to achieve those levels with minimal maintenance, an important reason why they were chosen for this project. 

Soil type played a role in installation as the location was pure sand. “There was a 100-by-100-square-foot hole in the ground and because it was so sandy, it was very difficult to dig individual trenches for leach lines,” Dinwiddie says. “If the wind blew hard, it would fill up trenches with sand before the job could be done.”   

Dinwiddie’s 20 plus years of experience was on full display as the size of the system and sandy ground didn’t slow him down. “To be honest, the biggest challenge for me was that the project was far away, and they were repaving the highway from the freeway all the way to the job,” he says. 

The campground is up and running and taking guests. And thanks to the new septic system, visitors can enjoy camping with the sanitary water amenities they’re used to at home. 


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