Installer James Stiksma Employs a Telehandler Unit to Apply Materials Without Trampling a Large Sand Bed

A Canadian pipeline job forces relocation and supersizing of an onsite system serving two homes on one property

Installer James Stiksma Employs a Telehandler Unit to Apply Materials Without Trampling a Large Sand Bed

Technicians from Fraserway Prekast and Canadian Wastewater Solutions install the new tanks at Abbotsford, British Columbia. At left, a technician from PumperGuys Tank Service, empties one of the old tanks. The tank delivery truck is parked on a road built because of the high water table, and the same site was used for the sand bed. (Photos courtesy James Stiksma)

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The old onsite system was failing at a rural property outside Abbotsford, British Columbia, and construction of a crude oil pipeline coming from Alberta brought a new system.

The pipeline ran through the property, and the old drainfield was right where work crews needed to set up a drill, says James Stiksma. He owns Canadian Septic Inc., in Langley, British Columbia, and handled installation.

Canadian Septic was originally contracted by Progress Lands, an energy infrastructure company, to locate septic systems potentially in the way of new pipeline in the Fraser Valley. But along the way the pipeline was sold to Trans Mountain, a corporation owned by the Canadian government. That delayed work by about five years.

Two homes

Using the new system are 17 members of a multigeneration family who live in two houses on the land that also holds a nursery and a blueberry farm.

One house is about 4,000 square feet. The other house is much smaller, and they’re about 60 feet apart.

Wastewater leaves the smaller house in a 4-inch PVC pipe and runs about 10 feet into the first of two concrete tanks. First is a 720-gallon single-compartment tank to settle trash and solids. Previously in this position was a lift station, and when the power failed, wastewater flow stopped. Adding two tanks provides storage capacity for emergencies.

Power isn’t out often, Stiksma says, but “the challenge in Abbotsford for some people who are on septic is that Abbotsford’s done a really good job of running city water to all different areas. So the power can go out, and now all your (septic system) pumps don’t work, but you can still put water into your system.”

Next to the first tank is another 720-gallon concrete tank about 8 inches away. In it is a Liberty  Pumps duplex pump system sending wastewater about 300 feet through a 2-inch Schedule 40 pipe.

“Because that lift station was there before, pumping over to the old tanks, we were just able to repurpose that line, and that saved us a bunch on excavating and install time and pipe,” he says.

Effluent leaves the larger house in the preexisting 4-inch pipe, and the 2-inch joins it.

Mingling the effluent

Wastewater from both houses flows into a series of three concrete tanks. First is a 2,401-gallon tank to settle solids from the larger house.

Water flows out about a foot into a 1,441-gallon tank with a moving bed bioreactor from Canwest Tanks & Ecological Systems. This consists of a Blue Diamond pump supplying air for floating media inside the tank. A 3/4-inch pipe recirculates sludge into the first tank. The Blue Diamond pump also handles this function.

From the aerobic tank, effluent flows into a 3,602-gallon concrete tank with a Liberty duplex pump. In between the aerobic tank and the pump tank is a UV system from Live Wire Solutions.

A 2-inch line carries effluent about 80 feet from the pump tank to a T joint on the sand bed and then another 80 feet to a pair of manifolds. These split the flow among 341 feet of 1-inch pipe with 1/8-inch holes drilled 27 inches apart. (British Columbia code requires a minimum of one hole for every 6 square feet of infiltration area.) Pipe is divided into two zones, and valves allow each zone to be isolated for maintenance. The sand bed is 30 feet wide by 203 feet long and is 2 to 3 feet in depth, varying with the contour of the ground. Pipe is set on top of 2 inches of washed 1/2-inch drain rock in a trench in the top of the bed. The whole bed is dosed at once. Geotextile fabric is on top of the rock, and capping the bed is 4 to 6 inches of topsoil.

Controlling the system is a pair of Infiltrator Aquaworx transducer panels. Tanks came from Fraserway Prekast. Rock came from Marno Trucking.

A Volvo 145 excavator was used for digging and moving earth. Stiksma contracts for excavation work, which saves him the capital investment on heavy equipment. Also hired for the project was a truck with a Telebelt telescoping conveyor from WestCoast Telebelts Ltd.

Too wet

The old system was undersized, Stiksma says, and the drainfield had been installed with only about 3 inches of topsoil over the drain rock. Even four years ago pipe was visible in the trenches, he says. “By the time we were there to do replacement, when the pumps kicked on you had the Bellagio fountain going.”

In addition, he says, the system was also taking wastewater from toilets serving workers in the barns. “So there was some additional flow it was not designed for.”

Although he is licensed to design Type 1 and 2 systems, Stiksma saw from the start that an engineer had to be involved. “When we dug our test pits, I think we had water coming in 8 to 12 inches below finished grade,” he says.

Under British Columbia rules, this is a Type 3 system, which meets the highest standards. Effluent must have less than 10 mg/L TSS, five-day BOD less than 10 mg/L, and median fecal coliform density less than 400 colony forming units per 100 mL.

(Type 1 systems consist of a septic tank, sized for three times the daily flow, followed by a drainfield. BOD must be between 150 and 300 mg/L, and TSS must be between 50 and 80 mg/L). Type 2 systems produce effluent with less than 45 mg/L TSS and five-day BOD less than 45 mg/L.)

Telehandler benefits

Removing the old drainfield meant dealing with that high water table. “It was so soupy, we ended up needing to install a roadway with some 3-inch minus (gravel) to get back there to pull out the old field.”

Because the Telebelt could sit on slightly higher parts of the site, other trucks didn’t get stuck, Stiksma says. But the main reason for using the Telebelt was to minimize traffic and compaction of the sand bed. It was an expensive truck to hire, so he made sure everything was lined up before it arrived.

To build the bed, Stiksma’s crew started by removing part of their roadway. The remainder supported the Telebelt while it spread the first 30% of material for the bed. On the second day, the crew removed the remainder of the road, and the Telebelt truck repositioned to the driveway. From there, its 100-foot arm could reach the remaining 70% of the bed. About 25 truckloads of material were used, most during the two days when the Telebelt was on site.

Before the project, Stiksma installed observation tubes to track groundwater levels. Two are in the toes of the mound and go down to native soil. Two stop at the bottom of the drain rock trench. He left the tubes in place. “We cut them down flush to grade and put a little 6-inch round cover over the top. When it’s time to do maintenance, someone is supposed to take a peek in there and see if there’s ponding or any issues that need addressing. It makes diagnosing problems a heck of a lot easier.”

Performance update

After six months of operation, the system is producing BOD of  9 mg/L (target <10), fecal coliform of 450 CFU/100 ml (target <400), and TSS of <2 mg/L (target <10).

Stiksma also hired a hydroexcavator for this job. Water and gas lines were in the area where some tanks would go, but a locator service couldn’t trace the lines completely, he says. Hydroexcavation bored a series of 12-inch location holes. It cost about $1,200, but removed the danger of nicking a pipe, he says.


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