Synopsis: Trickling filter systems sometimes bring high maintenance, high energy bills, and a mess in homeowners’ yards.

Application: The SeptiTech® STAAR® trickling filter system needs less maintenance, has a smart control panel to reduce electricity costs, and installs underground.

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Jenny Witherspoon had just pulled into the parking lot and watched warily as Tripp Collins, the head of Collins Developers, approached her car.

“Hey, Boston,” he said by way of greeting, “still planning to come to the Wintergreen phase two meeting next Friday?”

Jenny checked the calendar on her smart phone and scanned the date. “Starts at 4:30, right?”

Tripp nodded.

“Yes, I will be there. Anything I should know about?” Jenny asked.

“We’re catching flak about the wastewater treatment systems again, from the maintenance people grumbling about the periodic cleaning to homeowners complaining that maintenance folks are using their garden hoses to flush out the filters. And then there’s the impact on the electricity bills each month.”

Jenny sighed, her brow creasing. These were complaints she’d been hearing, too. “Okay, Tripp, Thanks for the heads up. See you Friday.”

He turned and headed to his car.

Jenny sighed. By her reckoning, it had taken a long time for the team at Collins to accept her as a trusted advisor. In spite of her engineering grad school accolades and numerous articles in industry publications, the moment Jenny opened her mouth and her “Back Bay” Boston accent tumbled out, she could tell that they expected her to be much too “citified” to talk familiarly about septic systems and wastewater management. The fact that they called her “Boston” always seemed to throw down the gauntlet. Every challenge was a test, especially when it involved the Wintergreen Development.

No doubt about it, the area had become a high-profile development. The overall energy emphasis of the developers played well into the mindset of people looking for a home that was comfortable and energy efficient for the near and long term as well as being a good equity investment. It attracted a wide range of homeowners, from young families starting out to empty nesters downsizing to a manageable, low maintenance alternative.

These homeowners, Jenny discovered, did their homework, asked smart questions, and were quick to voice their concerns if anything didn’t perform as anticipated.

Lately it seemed that the number of such concerns had escalated at Wintergreen. And many of them related to the decentralized wastewater treatment systems.

Most of the installed systems used trickling filtration technology, a method Jenny and many of her colleagues preferred for its efficiency and purported low-cost operation. In theory, the system made sense: wastewater was recirculated over packed felt media filter that captured and separated biological elements from it. But in practice, the system had some problematic aspects, those very things that Tripp has listed.

When Jenny reached her desk, her desktop alert reminded her she has an appointment the next day with a representative from Bio-Microbics to talk to about a new wastewater trickling system. Good timing! She thought to herself.

The next day she was reviewing her notes when she heard a commotion out in reception area. She stuck her head out of her office to and saw several colleagues gathered around a—well, what exactly was that?

It was blue and silver—a robotic figure—and it turned to her and spoke,
“You must be Jenny Witherspoon. I recognize you from your photo in industry magazines. I’m Robust—Rob for short.”

“Oh, I wasn’t expecting a …” she stopped, not sure what word to use.

“A B.O.T.S.? That’s short for Bio-Microbics Onsite Treatment Specialist. I understand you have some issues about trickling filtration systems for wastewater treatment.”

She launched into the litany of problems and soon forgot she was talking to a robot.

“The systems we’ve been specifying are efficient for the most part, but service people say they’re high maintenance, installation crews say they’re troublesome, homeowners don’t like the mess it leaves in the yard when maintenance crews use their garden hoses to rinse built-up waste off the media. And nobody likes the surprisingly higher-than-anticipated operating costs”

“Anything else?” Rob asked.

“Well, in a perfect world, they could be installed below grade so nothing shows in the lawn.”

“Understood. Well, you are already familiar with how trickling filter systems work, let me describe what makes our SeptiTech® Smart Trickling Anaerobic-Aerobic Recirculating Filter Systems different than those.”

He told her that this system addressed maintenance issues with robust spray nozzles that didn’t require the frequent cleaning of competitor’s nozzles. The SeptiTech STAAR’s unique plastic media wouldn’t clog with waste like felt media.

Robust explained that the system’s combination of aerobic and anaerobic operation met and exceeded the area’s wastewater treatment regulations. “Plus,” he added, “They install easily—below the ground!”

“What about operating costs?” Jenny asked.

Robust told her that the system had a smart control panel that senses where there is no flow and puts the pump in sleep mode and then reactivates the pump on the trickling filter when flow returns. “So it only runs when it’s needed instead of using unnecessary energy by cycling on and off automatically all day.”

“Sounds wicked good,” Jenny declared, then cautiously asked, “Ok, how much more does the STAAR system cost than the ones I’ve been speccing?”

And the last of Jenny’s objections evaporated as Robust responded, “Oh, no, Jenny, the STAAR system actually costs less.”

At the expansion meeting the following Friday, Jenny explained to the Wintergreen team that she was specifying a different wastewater trickling filtration treatment system that would counter all their current complaints, from ongoing maintenance to ongoing operating costs.

“You sound awfully sure of yourself, Boston” Tripp stated flatly. “Enough to bet a lobster dinner on the outcome?” he challenged.

Jenny walked over to him with more confidence than she’d ever before felt in team meetings and extended her hand for a handshake. “Absolutely!” she said.

Proof is in the Performance

Construction progressed swiftly on the Wintergreen phase two expansion. Robust promised Jenny he’d be onsite at installation of the first STAAR system in case the crew had any questions. Jenny received a call the next day from the installation foreman.

“Hello, Baaaaaahston!” Bruce Jade’s bad imitation of Jenny’s accent made her smile. “You sent in a ringer. Your, um, colleague Rob helped us through the first STAAR unit we installed. Then we installed the second unit fast and easy. But, Boston, you’ve been holding out on us. Why haven’t you specified these STAAR systems before?”

She was tempted to march into Tripp’s office and demand the lobster dinner on the spot. But she knew the proof would be in the performance.

In a few months she made a call to the service contractor. “How are the SeptiTech STAAR filtrations systems working from your point of view?

Frank Tanner gruffly responded, “Hey, you trying to put me out of a job, Boston?”

Jenny held her breath, then stammered, “Uh, Frank, what do you mean?”

Frank laughed. “Just messing with you, Jenny. Those systems seem to take care of themselves. We merely had to check a couple things. Didn’t have to hose any muck off a packed media bed. Wish you’d been specifying these STAAR systems on past installations at Wintergreen.”

Me too! Jenny thought to herself as she ended the call, “Thanks, Frank.”

There was just one more endorsement she needed. Carrying a big bouquet of wildflowers, she went over to the newest Wintergreen residence and knocked on the door. Emily Brody came to the door and smiled at Jenny, whom she’d met at the homes association’s welcome meeting. “Come in, dear, how can I help you?”

“I wanted to see how you liked living here by now.”

“Oh, Charlie and I felt at home immediately—this is the perfect retirement location for us. People have been so nice. Why, even that lovely Mr. Bots came by the other day to see how our septic system was working.”

“Mr. Bots?” Jenny asked.

“You know, dear, that blue and silver gentleman, Mr. Bots?

“Oh, yes, Rob, the B.O.T.S.! What did you tell him?”

“I told him that after meeting some of the folks in the older part of Wintergreen, I was glad I didn’t have one of those water treatment things sticking up in my yard. And it seems our system costs less to operate than theirs do. They were saying they wished they had the STAAR systems at their houses.”

Me too! Jenny thought to herself again as she handed Mrs. Brody the bouquet and waved goodbye.

The offices were deserted as Jenny went back to her desk and composed a memo to Tripp.

It’s payoff time! There’s a lobster dinner with my name on it and the tab’s on you. By the way, I’m bringing a date. His name is Rob. You’ll enjoy talking shop with him.

She grabbed a marker from her desk and signed it with a flourish: Boston.