And Now, For Something Completely Different – Sewer-wise.
The following first appeared in the Los Osos Bay News for Nov. 30 – Dec 6, 2005. Before everyone gets locked into Ginormous Expensive Behemoth Gravity Flow Sewer Collection Systems-- in-town? out-of-town? on top of Morro Rock? -- maybe folks might want to read up on On-Site Systems, including the one mentioned here. I spoke with Frank Freiler after this story appeared. The website listed shows the older system and according to Frank, the new systems have microchip technology that automatically monitor and adjust oxygen levels as the septic mix changes and have a built in system to electronically notify the System Operator if anything’s amiss so it can be fixed.
Clearly, such a system could operate much like the old Ma Bell system, where all the phone equipment was owned by Ma, and any repairs and fixes were all part of your bill. Furthermore, another new feature to this particular system, according to Frank, is that you can use the potable water at the end to water your petunias. Which may be a really wonderful feature in reducing water use and hence the draw-down on our lower aquifer. Plus, this system doesn’t involved digging up streets. No pipes to lay, no holes in the street.
According to CSD Board member, Julie Tacker, WilDan, the company from whence we have our temporary General Manager, will evaluate all alternative systems, including on-site, and will have cost, feasibility, etc. studies done comparing each to each. Since WilDan is forbidden to bid on any system, they don’t have a dog in this fight and hopefully, onsite systems, including their rapidly updating and improving technologies, will be given a fair look see, this time.
Meantime, community members may want to educate themselves on a technology that didn’t get much “air time” in the past. A whole lot of questions need to be asked about the benefits and drawbacks of how these systems can operate.
(Reprinted from The Bay News, with permission)
On-site Sewer Gizmo Resurfaces
By Jack Beardwood
With politicking over a Los Osos sewer continuing unabated, one inventor from Sparks, Nev., believes he has the best solution for Los Osos’ little problem.
“I have the most advanced technology in the world today,” said Tom Murphy, president of Advanced Environmental Systems, Inc., (AES) which manufactures and installs “green membrane bio-reactor technology” systems (MBR).
Murphy claims his invention is a solution that will save more than 50 percent of the cost of a conventional sewer system, better clean the groundwater aquifer, help conserve water without having to build a collection system or a treatment facility.
Murphy said he holds a half dozen patents with others pending and that his system produces nearly potable water. He declined to further explain how his system works, saying it was proprietary information.
Though it sounds a little too good to be true, Murphy has installed his invention around the U.S. — mostly in big commercial shopping centers and industrial uses — and he has some history in Los Osos, too.
His MBR biological process, which Murphy describes as a miniature advanced treatment plant, would use existing septic systems. He would propose to install one in every home in Los Osos.
With his systems in place, Murphy said about 1.2 million gallons of clean wastewater — five times cleaner than minimum drinking water standards — would be released into the aquifer, thus diluting the groundwater and cleaning it up much faster.
“Centralized sewer systems are the nation’s No. 1 source of pollution to our waterways,” he said. “Sewer treatment plants have failures, we all know that. When they fail, now you have one and a quarter million gallons of untreated pollutants flowing out to wherever the water is designated to go. With the on-site solution, this does not occur, because you are never going to have all these systems fail.”
Murphy said they could have the whole town on-line in half the time that a centralized sewer system would take to build. He estimated the initial cost at $15,000 per home or business — installed. With capital costs and maintenance, he said monthly bills would be about $100. He would form a corporation to install and run the systems and the Community Services District could eventually absorb that corporation.
He also believes he can give rebate checks to property owners through federal grants that would make the price even lower.
With the Los Osos CSD’s rejection last week of a $135 million low interest state loan, the board may have a chance to look at some other solutions to the sewer problem, before picking a new project.
While Murphy insists that the State Water Quality Control Board and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would approve of such a system, he admits that historically, the deck has been stacked against on-site treatment.
In a proverbial “fox guarding the henhouse,” he said engineering firms that specialize in centralized sewers are asked to give recommendations on alternatives for sewage treatment. And there’s a lot more money in designing, building and maintaining a big, traditional, sewer system.
“Typically, alternative solutions are not being considered,” he said.
Engineers are also supposed to consider energy costs in their evaluations. “They (on-site systems) are much more energy efficient than pumping sewage all over a city through collection systems and lift stations.”
Murphy said his company has installed about 100 of his mini-plants in the U.S., Mexico and Asia, mostly in industrial and high strength application systems. Among his clients are McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Wal-Mart.
Another benefit to his product is a homeowner would have the option of reusing their effluent for landscaping, producing about 250 gallons a day.
“There is technology out there that will enable you to utilize all of that water for your irrigation needs,” he said. “That within itself will reduce your water bill substantially. It will also reduce the demands on the water substantially.”
Murphy is no stranger to Los Osos and its sewer woes. Some 12 years ago, Los Osos resident Bob Semonsen had one of Murphy’s systems installed at his residence, which is near the bay on Fourth Street. “It works good,” said Semonsen. “It’s a good system. There is no doubt that this eliminates nitrates.”
However, Semonsen said it may not be practical for the entire community because it requires an occasional adjustment of equipment. “People don’t want to worry about septics anymore,” he explained.
Semonsen said he has twice had to replace a $500 blower. He also had some problems with an alarm system.
Back then, the MBR was installed at Semonsen’s home as a test case with full knowledge of the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the agency that is mandating Los Osos put in a sewer.
Semonsen said Murphy claims to have added a monitoring system that makes adjustments automatically, but he hasn’t had an opportunity to investigate its effectiveness.
Murphy has a convert in former CSD Director Frank Freiler.
“This (Murphy’s system) is a way out of this dilemma,” said Freiler, who resigned his board seat in 2004 and was replaced by Semonsen on an interim basis. “I think this is the answer. There are obstacles, obviously.”
Freiler is now on the board of the S&T Mutual Water Company, which provides water to the Sunset Terrace subdivision, adjacent to Sea Pines Golf Resort.
Freiler was a member of the “Technical Advisory Committee” (TAC) in 1994 that endorsed installing 100 of Murphy’s systems in town. The idea died after then-Dist. 2 Supervisor Bud Laurent did not support it.
Gail McPherson of Voice, Vision and Choice, wants to take a look at Murphy’s and other systems. McPherson said the CSD should put out a request for proposals for on-site systems. She said there are financial and legal obstacles associated with the AES solution. She said the company’s proposal would be to essentially retain ownership and if the system were to fail, the CSD would be held responsible.
Residents can check out Murphy’s system themselves by visiting his Web site, see: http://www.aeswastewater.com/ or E-mail for information to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: We are publishing this story only as an informational item and are not endorsing this system. We figure with the state loan now kaput, the CSD may have an opportunity for a renewed look at the alternatives and, it appears to us that AES’ system didn’t get much of a chance the first time around.