Monday, November 9, 2009

Decentralized vs Big Pipe

I subscribe to several blogs where many of the main contributors are manufacturers or engineers who design and build decentralized onsite wastewater systems. A major issue in these forums is the fact that regulatory agencies seem to be much more willing to construct "big pipe" sewage treatment plants than even consider a decentralized system. One such issue has been working its way through the regulatory mess called the L.A. Regional Water Board. ( If I had a choice, I would choose the other kind of water boarding rather than be exposed to this governmental torture). Apparently, onsite systems, the scourge of society, are responsible for all types of horrors such as polluting the bay, the aquifer, the soil....In fact they think they may have found a link between the septic system pollution and nancy pelosi's non-responsive blink reflex. But that's another water-board story.

Here is the interesting part, excerpted from their local paper:

"The Board estimated costs for a new sewer system and treatment plan for the city would range from $16 million to more than $80 million, with locals footing much of the bill. I could mean fees of $500 a month for local residents and $17,000 a month for local businesses." First I have to commend the Board on its "Cracker-Jack job of estimating the costs. $16 million to $80 million...a $64,000,000 spread! Translation: The project will cost more than $80,000,000 because these people don't know what they are talking about. It's like going to a restaurant and reading the menu:

12 oz. Porterhouse Steak.....$30 to $150

16 oz. Prime Rib (fridays and saturdays only).....$40 to $200

Bottle of Bud.....$4 to $20

Or how about....the new car you are looking to buy will either get 8 MPG or 40 MPG. Who knows?

The point is that any option costing businesses $17,000 per month is a dumb option. Period. But here is why, in my opinion, dopey regulators are so fixated on big pipe systems and unwilling to even consider a decentralized option: The manufacturers and designers of "decentralized" systems design and manufacture systems that look, to any rational person, dumb. A case in point can be found in an old edition of Onsite Installer magazine. Back in 2007 there was an article titled, "Soaring with Eagles" or something grand like that. I suggest you find that article, read it and decide whether or not it is "eagles" doing the soaring. Soaring cost? You bet. High flying absurdity? Absolutely. Stratospheric stupidity? Without a doubt. These types of designs, and they are fact many designers and manufacturers cannot wait to land a job like that...only serve to damage the decentralized industry. Who cares that the mfg and designers were able to talk an obviously catatonic client into this foolishness, the fact is, when people think decentralized, that is what they envision because that is what gets designed and installed. As a result the decentralized industry is not given serious consideration because the designs it presents do not appear as if the designer is serious. The pod proliferation looks like something out of the old kids game "Mouse Trap". The idea behind the game was to perform a simple operation with the most convoluted apparatus possible. Take a look at I am certain most of the decentralized "Big Boys" have a pretty good shot at sweeping the Rube-Goldberg competition with their existing designs.

The result, in the decentralized industry, are goofy wastewater treatment systems requiring, in some designs, continuous on-line babysitting. It seems to me that the only reason a manufacturer would require 24/7 monitoring of the septic system (something that is not very popular with the owner of the system) is because they NEED it. In other words, the system is so unreliable that without a continuous on-line connection, the system is in imminent danger of failing catastrophically without warning. It is interesting that most other industries, automobile industry for instance, have progressed to a point where cars can log 100,000 miles before a tune up. Auto warranties have gone from 12 months to 24 months to 36 months and they keep improving. The onsite industry, in contrast, has regressed from bury it forget it and replace it in 30 years to installing a full time digital link-up in an attempt to keep the goofy thing running until the next onsite maintenance visit. And I don't want to hear about system failures....from what I have seen, the only systems failing are the "new" ones that cost a fortune and were supposed to be a panacea for all of our perceived wastewater issues. If the decentralized industry wants to make progress and compete effectively with big pipe, it will need to conduct a serious self-evaluation and stop pretending that all the snake-oil, pod after pod systems are real wastewater treatment systems and accept what they are, goofy.