Goats on the Drainfield and Other Odd Encounters

NOWRA member Chris Chapman enjoys the daily challenges of decentralized wastewater industry and hopes to attract more young people to the industry

Goats on the Drainfield and Other Odd Encounters

Chris Chapman holding son Luke, his wife Amanda holding son Henry

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Name and title or job description: Chris Chapman, owner

Business name and location: Show Me Soils, Lonedell/St. Clair, Missouri

Services we offer: Onsite soil evaluations and onsite system inspections for real estate transactions. We manufacture precast septic tanks. And we are a distributor for Norweco products.

Age: 37

Years in the industry: My dad, John Chapman Sr., owned a septic installation business so I grew up in the industry “dragging pipe.” By the time I was 10 or 12, I was working every summer.

Association involvement: I’ve been in the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association for about 10 years and I’m currently on the board of directors. One thing I’m involved in is getting college kids and even high school kids interested in this industry through the emerging professionals program. We’re still in the infant stages of that and trying to come up with different ideas. Some ideas include offering discounts or something to get kids to come to the shows.

We’re trying to figure out how someone ends up in this industry if they don’t have a connection of some sort. It’s interesting and I really don’t know the answer. It’s kind of a weird thing to get into. I think we’ll start at universities that have wastewater programs, maybe eventually have emerging professional groups on each campus.

There are some misconceptions about the industry. Everybody thinks you’re pumping solid waste every day. But, no, there are a lot of different aspects to this. We like the phrase, “It’s not what you think.”

Benefits of belonging to the association: The biggest thing for me is the networking across the U.S. When you work in a certain area, you think the way you do something is the only way it can be done. You’re so set in your ways. I was like that so it’s been very eye-opening to see how things are done across the country and not just in your area. It’s really helped me broaden my horizons. Another thing I like is seeing all the behind-the-scenes stuff that you had no idea was being done to promote this industry — lobbying, for example.

Biggest issue facing your association right now: Lack of funding. All the money for our industry goes to the big sewer people. So we’re lobbying to get some of the different grants. About 25% of the U.S. population is on septic but we only get a tiny percentage of any funding. And one thing that gives this industry a bad name is everyone thinks so many of these systems are failing. If we got some of these grants and other funding, we could help people who can’t afford to replace or repair their existing system.

Our crew includes: Rachel Click, office manager; Krissy Blankenship, assistant office manager; Abby Gliedt, administrative assistant and soil report specialist; Kyley Henry, administrative assistant; Adam Brott, service manager, precast plant supervisor, inspector; Coby Chapman, routine service manager; Brenden Murphy, inspection manager; Tom Chura, inspector; Rick Wilcockson, semi-retired inspector and consultant; Scott Stroup, soil testing operator; Chad Blankenship, precast plant manager and boom truck operator; and Francis Feth, jack of all trades.

Typical day on the job: The main thing I do is soil testing. We’ll load up the excavator and get the truck and trailer ready to roll and then plot out where we are heading that day. I bring one guy with me. I lay the test pits out, he excavates them, I describe them, and he’ll then follow back around and backfill. I usually do that six to eight hours a day, three to four days a week, three to five tests a day. On the other days I finalize reports or help with our precast division which we’ve only had since 2021.

The job I’ll never forget: We did a job for a couple who had 13 kids. It was the biggest drip system we’d ever put in. When we returned a few months later to see how everything had settled in, the whole drainfield was fenced off and there were 30 or 40 goats on it. It was wet so there were hoofprints everywhere. I said, “You’ve got to get these goats off this drainfield. They’re going to destroy it.” We came back a couple weeks later and they were all gone. I said, “I’m glad you got them off the drainfield. What happened to them?” He just smirked. He had them butchered — which isn’t quite what I had in mind.

My favorite piece of equipment: I’ve had probably 10 different-sized mini excavators to excavate soil pits since I started my business in 2011. This year I finally bought a brand-new John Deere 26G. And I’ve got a Cronkhite tilt-deck trailer so we don’t have to lift ramps any more. It’s really low-profile. I work in a lot of weird areas where it’s tough to get a truck and trailer in so I don’t want something too big, but some of the minis I’ve used over the years were too small. I think I’ve finally got the perfect setup.

Most challenging site I’ve worked on: We have some very difficult jobs sites — pure rock, ravines, hills, extreme slopes. There are areas outside of St. Louis that have been developed for 30 years and you pull into a subdivision and wonder, why is somebody just now building a house there and how can they be thinking, “This is where I’m going to build my dream home”? It’s because the good sites have been gobbled up. So you have to bring in everything, break all the rock out. We have to use plastic tanks more often now because there’s no possible way to set a concrete tank on some of these hillsides.

Oops, I wish I could take this one back: We haven’t had any really bad projects and all-in-all I’m happy with my business. But there are times when I think, what if I only did soil testing and worked three days a week and I was the only person and didn’t have to worry about anybody else and their livelihood, and not have all the stress and worries. That being said, I love my employees and we really are a family, so I’m glad I’m where I’m at.

The craziest question I’ve been asked by a customer: My brother and I have a separate company that does septic pumping and customers will call a couple weeks after we’ve pumped their system, furious and wanting their money back because, “You just pumped my tank and it’s already filled back up.” We assure them that everything’s working perfectly.

If I could change one industry regulation, it would be: I think we need uniformity across all counties, all states. There are so many different codes. In one soil testing day I can do three or four different counties and they are completely opposite of each other. We just need everybody on the same page.

Best piece of small business advice I’ve heard: My dad used to say, “You never lose money on a job you don’t get.” When I first started, if I didn’t get every single job I was asked about, big or small, I’d be upset. But after all these years I now know you don’t have to get every single job. You have to look at quality not quantity.

If I wasn’t working in the wastewater industry, I would: I have coached youth basketball for a decade so if I wasn’t doing this I’d likely be a teacher and a basketball coach.

Crystal ball time – This is my outlook for the wastewater industry: I think the outlook is really good. With all the lobbying and everything NOWRA is doing, I think we’re going to start getting a bigger piece of the pie. I think this industry is getting ready to explode. People are buying land and getting further away from the cities and septic is going to be huge. That gets back to the need for more young people to join the industry. The shortage of workers in the wastewater industry is really starting to be seen.


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