FOG So Thick I Could Stand On It!

Education and “utility style” regulation of septic systems are needed for Canadian wastewater pros to avoid this scenario

FOG So Thick I Could Stand On It!

Craig Sapriken (left) standing on the crust layer of a neglected septic tank, with Alex Kinakin.  (Photo courtesy of All Around Septic Services)

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Name and title or job description: Craig Sapriken, owner/operator

Business name and location: All Around Septic Services, Slocan Park, British Columbia

Services we offer: Septic pumping, maintenance, repair, installation and evaluations

Age: 47

Years in the industry: 13 years as a subcontractor, 9 years as an owner/operator

Association involvement: I’ve been a member of the Western Canada Onsite Wastewater Management Association of British Columbia since 2015. I’ve been on the board of directors since 2021.

Benefits of belonging to the association: WCOWMA is a “call upon the collective” of experienced minds and people dedicated to the wastewater industry. The annual convention and trade show become a domino effect of people sharing their own experiences or advising others where to go for answers to questions. Key topics from the previous season are brought forth during roundtable discussions. Questions and concerns brought forth by one member become answers for the entire membership. There is no better resource for those starting out. We may all be competing with each other during the weekday, but an association puts the competition aside to ensure we are all striving and succeeding for the common practice.

Biggest issue facing your association right now: It’s an issue around every corner in most trades these days — seeking out and introducing new minds and bodies to the industry. Education is a solid second. There is an incredible turnover of residents moving from municipalities onto rural onsite wastewater systems with little or no knowledge of how these sewage systems function. A wastewater association could be the unbiased link between Realtors and new homeowners to deliver the message, “Do you know what’s hooked to the end of your sink and toilet?” Another issue is improving the eye-to-eye relationships between accreditation authorities, local health authorities and registered onsite wastewater practitioners. But communication has been improving.

Our crew includes: Lisa Poznikoff, office administrator, is our “overseer of the nerve center.” Brian Kroeker, a registered onsite wastewater practitioner, planner/designer and maintenance provider, has invested considerable time developing maintenance forms and design templates. Alex Kinakin, pumper technician, is the youngest and longest-serving operator and we are grateful for his years of dedication. Sheldon Hicks, installer/pumper — when he’s not traveling the wonders of the world he returns in the spring to put in the time and has an interest in becoming a registered wastewater practitioner. Kent Robbins, shop/utility/pumper, gets bounced around and takes it in stride, filling whatever role is needed that day — including being a busy grandfather. Chris Coleman, installer/machine operator, is the newest member of the team and has a goal to become a registered wastewater practitioner.

Typical day on the job: The day begins between 5 and 5:30 a.m. I start receiving text messages or phone calls by 6 a.m. Some mornings are quiet and allow me to read emails or complete paperwork; other mornings are hectic. Pumper operators leave the shop at 6 a.m. and installation crews start between 7 and 8 a.m. The crews have developed their own routines in the mornings so the check-ins are brief and keep me in the know. By 9 a.m. it’s finally my time to leave the shop and carry out an evaluation, site visit or repair for the day.

The job I’ll never forget: A local resident called about his septic system backing up into the house. He was entertaining a large number of family members during the week. Upon arrival we noticed the septic tank was solid top to bottom. The tank was much too small for the size of the home and the level of entertaining the homeowner enjoyed providing. We headed back to the shop and returned with our little Hydro-Spade truck, as a vacuum truck would have had a difficult time pulling on the thick waste. The FOG layer was solid enough that I took a chance and stepped onto the crust — and the contents held the weight of my body.

My favorite piece of equipment: We have been investing a lot into equipment the last few years, including purchasing the Hydro-Spade, developed by Jesse Bouwman, owner of Hazeland Manufacturing. It’s a compact single-axle hydrovac truck with an onboard boiler and jetting system, a 600-gallon freshwater tank and a six-yard collection tank.

Most challenging site I’ve worked on: I designed a system for a resident with silt loam soil, poor permeability and high calcium content. During the site and soils test, we got extremely lucky and found a 27-centimeter seam of loamy sand. Several other test holes indicated this seam existed throughout the extent of the proposed drainfield, which would be our infiltrative surface area. Fast forward 22 months, the homeowner took it upon himself to grade and level the area for the proposed drainfield. Rather than consulting before moving ahead, he finished stripping off the only good seam of permeable soil that was available to construct the drainfield. This is why we plan and design. This is why site and soils worksheets are so valuable for noting our soil horizons. This is why it is so important to study the drawings and note the excavation depths.

Oops, I wish I could take this one back: We went out of our way to help a homeowner with a problem STEP (septic tank effluent pumping) system. It appeared some of the calculations to overcome the head pressures were overlooked or miscalculated. The system was changed from a Flout (Rissy Plastics) to a conventional pump system.

The designer and contractor previous to our involvement are reputable individuals who I know personally. It was difficult moving forward with our fix without feeling like we were stepping on their toes. The homeowner had nothing good to say about them and I chose to simply dismiss that and move ahead with our alteration. I was very confident the fix would work, and it did.

The same homeowner, eight months later, chose to share those same no-good feelings about us. A split box attached to the pump chamber had been damaged sometime later and they blamed us, so we were categorized in that same “corrupt wastewater contractors” group. I replaced the damaged splice box and installed a new rise at no additional charge but, at the end of the day, I did not protect myself or my wastewater brothers from a client who was impossible to please.

The craziest question I’ve been asked by a customer: We were on a job that consisted of groundwater backflowing through the drainfield into the septic tank. The homeowner, who was having a difficult time understanding why water would enter the drainfield and fill the tank, asked, “Could we not just ‘cork’ the groundwater off from the drainfield?”

If I could change one industry regulation, it would be: To enforce mandatory maintenance visits and compliance evaluations on all onsite wastewater systems within 100 meters of a body of water. I’d also like to change the term “recreational water” as it’s currently implied in our wastewater standards and application forms to “essential water” or “protected water.”

Best piece of small business advice I’ve heard: It’s based on the letters found in the word “wealth.”  W-work hard. E-elevate your mind. A-all in. L-love what you do. T-think outside the box. H-have heart.

If I wasn’t working in the wastewater industry, I would: Become a motivational speaker.

Crystal ball time – This is my outlook for the wastewater industry: I’d like to see onsite wastewater systems classed more like a utility. When you don’t pay your utility bills, your electricity is cut off, the phone is disconnected, the gas meter is turned off. Onsite systems are never forgotten when the toilet can’t flush. This would give respect to the industry and clean up our understanding of how wastewater is to be properly treated.


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