Everything, Including Development, Is Bigger in Texas

This pumping and onsite company hopes improving onsite technology and water reuse efforts will preserve a dwindling resource for a fast-growing populace

Everything, Including Development, Is Bigger in Texas

The Paramount Wastewater Solutions leadership team includes, from left, Chase Kern, Hannah Fischer, Krista Kern, Patrick Kern, David Wharton, and office pets Dundee and Zoe. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Wastewater Solutions)

Name and title or job description: Patrick Kern, vice president, and Chase Kern, general manager

Business name and location: Paramount Wastewater Solutions LLC, Temple, Texas

Services we offer: Septic pumping, roll-off services for picking up dry sludge, and a commercial Orenco dealer; retail store and sell septic products, retail and wholesale, to contractors

Age: Patrick 56, Chase 27

Years in the industry: Patrick: I’ve been in it 28 years. I was previously a real estate appraiser. With the sprawl from the cities into the suburbs, I saw how people were needing onsite systems. The appraisal industry wasn’t doing real well at the time so I was looking to make a change and moved over into septic. 

Chase: I grew up with it but professionally I’ve been here three years to help my parents run the business.

Association involvement: Patrick: I’ve been a member of the Texas On-Site Wastewater Association for about 10 years. I am on the board of directors and have served on several committees.

Benefits of belonging to the association: Patrick: TOWA is very active. It’s an intermediary between our members and the regulators. We try to prevent overreaching regulation, police our members, work with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for suggestions on research and development, and we’re active in the legislative process. We try to educate the members — for example, we have really been active on stressing the importance of securing tank lids and secondary fall prevention.

Chase: TOWA is good for advocacy. It really does an excellent job visiting the capitol, representing the contractors, coming up with realistic solutions on the regulations side, and informing the legislature on what they should proceed with.

Biggest issue facing your association right now: Patrick: Keeping up with the big influx of people into Texas is a challenge. We have diminishing water levels and have to keep them clean. We have an excellent group of installers and designers but we’re continually trying to improve the process. There’s a lot of research going into reuse and looking at other avenues to prevent groundwater contamination.

Our crew includes: Patrick: We have a staff of 16. My wife, Krista Kern, is the president and chief financial officer. Our operations manager David Wharton handles the day-to-day trucking operation. Our sales manager Hannah Fischer controls most of our retail and wholesale sales.

Typical day on the job: Patrick: When I arrive I speak with the managers and work on the policies, processes and procedures — trying to hone that in and help them, make their lives easier. They carry the weight around here and I try to use my experience to help them out.

Chase: My dad is specialized in and really good at decentralized wastewater treatment and treatment of commercial sites and does a lot of consulting. He and Hannah work together on that. When I come into the office I talk with Hannah about the sales for the day as well as stocking different products. Once she and I are on the same page I talk with David about the status of trucks and drivers. Then I move to our customer service representatives and make sure customers are receiving availability and pricing on good terms and that we are keeping a healthy cushion on when we’re booking out jobs.

The job I’ll never forget: Patrick: We had a call come in one night around 8 p.m. It was a woman whose husband had been deployed overseas and she couldn’t flush any of her toilets. Normally we would try to push somebody off until the next day but she had kids and this was a special situation so we headed out. My wife and I and one other employee were the only ones available. We ended up having to dig it up. There was a huge root ball in the line. In the middle of all that I noticed my wife had disappeared — she was only there for emotional support, anyway. I looked up and she and the woman were having a glass of wine while we were toiling away. It was about 3 in the morning when we got done but we got her taken care of.

My favorite piece of equipment: Patrick: I like the larger vacuum trucks — 4,000 gallons or more (Mack and Freightliners built out by American Tank with aluminum or steel tanks and National Vacuum Equipment blowers or Fruitland pumps). I also like our RIDGID locators and our Bobcat mini excavator, which has worked out wonderfully for digging up systems.

Chase: I really enjoy our vehicle tracker software from Samsara. That has been extremely helpful in keeping up with the status of the trucks, telemetry, keeping track of maintenance. We utilize the GPS gateways with the dual-facing cameras to help with complaints, accidents and harsh events.

Most challenging site I’ve worked on: Patrick: The deep lift stations, the septic systems that are downhill, are the most challenging. To overcome that, we use a booster which injects air into the vacuum line to help lift the waste. And we use an NVE 4310 blower to assist us.

Oops, I wish I could take this one back: Patrick: I’m always looking for new technology but one time I got a little over my skis with a new treatment unit. We put numerous ones in the ground before I realized there were problems. I had to go back and make it right with my customers when they started having issues. Another thing to watch out for is buying used equipment from auctions. I’ve learned my lesson there.

Chase: We tried to take a swing at pumping out a freshwater clarifier at a municipality that we weren’t ready for. We didn’t have our blower yet. We were down there in waders with pressure washers in the middle of the summer, trying to get it out. We couldn’t quite get the whole job done and had to call in another group to help us.

The craziest question I’ve been asked by a customer: Chase: We get calls from people asking why their system is full if they just had it pumped. We constantly have to educate customers. We have Septic 101 on our website.

If I could change one industry regulation, it would be: Patrick: One thing we have been trying to do in TOWA is get a pumper course for basic knowledge, teaching people outside the industry who have pump trucks how to not damage the equipment, not leave risers open where children or pets could fall in. We don’t want them to do more damage than good. Right now there is no legal requirement to attend classes to learn about septic systems. You could damage media, burn out pumps, knock off floats with the vacuum hoses, and cause the homeowner problems.

Chase: Whoever touches a septic system, even to pump it out, needs to be educated on the system. You shouldn’t be able to just buy a truck and get into servicing. And it goes beyond just you touching the system. The homeowner is standing over your shoulder asking you questions about how it works, trusting that you know something about it. Sometimes these guys give advice that is off-the-wall crazy stuff.

Best piece of small business advice I’ve heard: Patrick: You have to know your costs before you can quote a price to a customer. And maintenance, maintenance, maintenance on trucks.

Chase: Watch your costs and don’t cheat yourself on margin.

If I wasn’t working in the wastewater industry, I would: Patrick: Both of us have the same answer — real estate development. We were both real estate appraisers at one time.

Crystal ball time – This is my outlook for the wastewater industry: Patrick: In Texas, we have diminishing potable and freshwater levels and I’d like to see steps to conserve and reuse. Texas is a big rainwater reuse state. Instead of putting potable water on lawns, we’re trying to get people to reuse wastewater or use rainwater. An old oil man once told me, “Water is the next oil in Texas.” 


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