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Getting More for Less by Planning on-Site Disposal

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T.C. Jacobs

principle of Toney C. Jacobs & Associates, Inc.

Mooresville, NC 28117


In the past (less than 20 years) the profession of consulting soil scientist really did not exist in N.C. Developments were traditionally on better landscapes, which usually meant better soils. Land prices were such that lots could be sacrificed to make on-site disposal work. Many of the larger non-residential systems discharged into streams or even dry ditches. Lower population densities meant a greatly reduced chance for environmental or public health impact. Governmental agencies such as DEH and DWQ did only what was required; consequently a great deal was left to chance. Often alternatives were never discussed with developers because they were considered too expensive. In the past, public employees gave advice, today the use of public employees to help plan private projects has been reduced to a minimum. The planning to optimize return on land must be contracted from the private sector. This planning is manifest in three main ways: new or advanced technology, increased level of effort in preliminary and secondary planning, and added monitoring and maintenance to increase service life.


Everyone is familiar with the cards and posters hawking planning with the g hanging off the side. The satire of this comes to reality almost daily with the use of on-site waste systems. Individual environmental health specialists, local health departments, local and state specialists, and consultants are called upon to make poorly planned lots, entire subdivisions, public projects such as schools, and private projects such as shopping centers work. Often these projects have budgets in the millions with the waste disposal option having never been considered at all. Often the clients are well educated, politically connected, and affluent individuals who have invested heavily in land, infra-structure, architects, and planners who have provided “fluff” without regard to waste disposal. Often the primary charge to the on-site professional is to make this “fluffy” plan work with no net loss in revenue. While this does offer humor to regulators and consultants, it really is not funny since it becomes the responsibility of those laughing to work out a solution to a problem which could have been avoided.


The two main tools of good planning are level of effort and advanced technology. Planning can be as diverse as a client wanting the lowest acceptable, lowest prices technology (gravity conventional system), while others use higher levels of planning and more expensive technology. The first part of consulting is understanding the goals and limitations imposed for the job to work. Often the job may require no more than a simple discussion to realize on-site is not an option. After establishing that on- site is an option, a comprehensive soil and site evaluation must take place. the client usually knows location, location, location and that their site lays well. Most Enon Series seems to be in a good location and lays well, but that is the extent of its on-site potential. the professional soil scientist must recognize limitations in mineralogy, watertable, and available space.

A good or bad tract requires time only proportional to size. Auger holes or pits are spaced “as needed” and larger tracts can be accurately accepted or rejected. Mixed good and bad soil, which do not follow geomorphic patterns, may require a great deal of investigation to maximize the same or probably a lower lot yield. Many of the better residential developers, engineers, and architects have begun to work closely with soil scientists to get site specific soil information before closing on property.


The number of professionals listed as being available for consulting in the 1989 Directory of Professional Soil Scientists in North Carolina was 45. Nine years later the 1997 NC Board for Licensing of Soil Scientist Directory has 146 individuals. The proliferation of those who have made themselves available is an indication of need by user groups. Use would not increase unless those using these services were able to realize an advantage from their investment. The policy of most piedmont county health departments does not allow non- mandated services. this generates many of the planning opportunities and work to the private sector. Regional offices of DWQ usually do not staff soils personnel, but a strong referral system is in place which directs clients to the consulting soil professional.

In N.C. advanced technology in on-site actually began with the LPP in the late 1970’s. It moved slowly to the PPBPS in 1988, but has advanced in recent years with the approval of chamber, drip, peat, and other proprietary systems. University support on the State level began with specialist like Bobby Carlisle, Bob Rubin, and then Craig Cogger. From work begun by the early waste professionals, a graduate faculty with many graduate students has produced valuable research work and publications. We now have professionals like Mike Vepraskas, Aziz Amoozegar, and Mike Hoover who are getting into the specifics of exactly how waste systems work. The mid 1980’s also saw the beginning of the on-site conference which began as loosely held discussions which have advanced into this 3-day highly structured conference.

The main support publication available in 1969 was published by the Taft Institute and it gave line requirements in minutes/inch of “perk”. Since that time there is the EPA purple book, the Small Flows Clearing House, and on-line support. Trade organizations like Florida Septic and conferences like the ASAE On-Site Wastewater Treatment National Symposium have flourished since 1974.

Monitoring and management have become the rule for certain types of systems. Those providing this service are trained and tested by the State. At least one large residential developer has begun to require all systems, regardless of complexity, to be monitored. He requires enhancements above the .1900 rule. This enhanced service has been accepted by homeowners as an added amenity to their lot/home investment.


Slowly at first, but with an increasing use, planning and planners in the form of soil scientists have become the norm. The bigger developers who employ consultents consider this as a cost of doing business, while smaller less sophisticated developers are slowly beginning to realize that such service actually pays rather than costs. Technology has increased because new products and innovations are constantly being introduced. Monitoring and management have become the norm and new ideas are steadily coming to the market place.