Onsite Pioneer

Kyle Shern helps lead a statewide effort to advance
the stature and performance of onsite treatment in Missouri



Onsite Pioneer

Kyle Shern helps lead a statewide effort to advance
the stature and performance of onsite treatment in Missouri

By Rosalie E. Leposky

Kyle Shern began Bio-Gard, Inc., in Columbia, Mo., as an installer of onsite treatment systems and lagoons. Now he also serves as a sales representative, distributor, and installer trainer for various product lines in our industry. In the process, Kyle has introduced new technologies to Missouri and helped the entire state adapt to new onsite wastewater management systems.

A year after earning a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of Missouri in Columbia, Kyle took a job with a local plumbing services company.

“In the early 1990s, local and state legislation was pending to require a permit to install a septic system or a lagoon,” he says. “I went to the Boone County Commission meetings in 1993. I could see that the new legislation would create a market because homeowners and property- owners would be forced to comply.”

Kyle was right. Boone County adopted septic tank and lagoon regulations more than two years before Missouri began statewide regulation. The new state law passed in 1994 and took effect in September 1995, although the process of applying for permits did not begin until December 1996. “The new legislation was perceived by many as encouraging ‘Big Brother’ and more regulations,” says Kyle.

Kyle, on the other hand, saw the legislation as an opportunity to start his own business. He sold his 1973 burnt-orange Corvette and bought his first backhoe. “Initially everyone built the cheaper lagoons,” he recalls. “Now people’s perception and disposition have changed, and they are opting for better-performing systems.”

Lagoon pros and cons

To build a lagoon, the installer excavates a small pond in Missouri’s impermeable clay soil to contain wastewater from a home or business. Each lagoon is surrounded by a fence and has an overflow pipe that discharges onto the ground. Lagoons smell and can spread disease. “They are not much better than just piping your discharge directly into a ditch,” Kyle says.

At first a significant part of Bio-Gard’s business was installing lagoons. “We installed more than a dozen lagoons, but now we prefer not to install them,” Kyle says. “Ninety-nine percent of the systems we install now are alternative or advanced systems. Such systems provide a higher level of treatment, using some means of aeration. These systems have a clean discharge applied to the soil. Often it involves drip irrigation.”

Because of the high clay content of central Missouri soil, conventional septic tanks and lateral fields for the most part don’t work, says Kyle. “Soil types restrict the use of standard systems,” he explains.

“ Soils with high clay content have very small pore spaces for the movement of effluent. A biomat will form and clog the soil pores, causing the lateral lines to fail and force the effluent up through the soil to the surface. The effluent that collects on the surface may cause health problems.”

A matter of economics

Alternative aerobic treatment systems include fixed-film and suspended growth media systems. In a fixed-film system the aerobic bacteria fix or attach to a surface in the system. In suspended-growth systems, bacteria float freely in an aerated zone.

New lagoons are still being installed in Boone County and other rural Missouri counties. The minimum lagoon size for a one- or two-bedroom home is 900 square feet. That refers only to the water surface and does not include the safety fence and berm that must be built. For a three- or four-bedroom home, the lagoon size is 1,320 to 1,760 square feet. A lagoon can consume much of a homesite’s land.

Kyle says most lagoons are not maintained. “The grass around a lagoon has to be mowed, and larger plants that may shade a lagoon must not be allowed to take root,” he says. “The penetration of sunlight is important to lagoons for proper bacterial growth.”

Installation of lagoons is usually a matter of economics. Mobile, manufactured, and other small starter homes tend to go with the least expensive wastewater system – typically a lagoon, which can be installed for less than $3,000. An alternative system for a three- or four-bedroom home may cost from $14,000 to $18,000 or more.”

Asking lots of questions

Dr. Randall J. Miles, associate professor of soil science at the University of Missouri, observes that Kyle “is one of the leaders in Missouri’s effort to improve onsite wastewater treatment. He helped install our research system and helps teach on some of our field days from his experience. Statewide installers call and ask him questions. Before Kyle will represent or serve as a vendor for a new product, he asks lots of questions. We give him a lot of credit for his research.”

Such activities now represent about 15 percent of Bio-Gard’s business, and that volume is growing. “Most of our sales work is done over the phone from our office and at installer trade shows,” says Kyle. Products that Bio-Gard installs, represents, and distributes include:

• Aqua Safe® suspended-growth
aeration equipment manufactured by Ecological Tanks, Inc., of North Downsville, La.

• The FAST® (fixed activated sludge treatment) line of aerobic systems from Bio-Microbics, Inc., in Shawnee, Kan.

• Custom-built fiberglass septic tanks manufactured in central Missouri to Bio-Gard’s specifications.

• Drip irrigation technologies from Netafim USA of Fresno, Calif.

• Sump pumps and other products from Zoeller Pump Company of Louisville, Ky.

Zoeller makes onsite systems for single-family homes and for subdivisions and multi-home projects beyond the reach of municipal sewer systems. “We service a new market niche here in Missouri, providing equipment to subdivisions that require pumping equipment and tanks for each new home site, or a cluster system where the sewage from several homes is combined and treated in one place,” says Kyle. “In effect, developers are able to build their own small sewer systems for their communities.”

Extending the fringe

These systems make development viable until neighboring communities grow enough to annex the new subdivisions. “The EPA recognizes that these systems have better performance records than some municipal systems,” Kyle says. “We’re one of the first Missouri companies to have hands-on installation experience with them.”

Bio-Gard worked closely with Zoeller to develop a system for developer Garth Coleman’s Kinkead Crossing, a 20-acre project with 39 homes just north of Columbia.

“Each home has a septic tank and pump,” Kyle explains. “The pump sends the effluent through connections to a central treatment center. Each home’s tank and the treatment center are designed with reserve space to protect systems during power outages.” Some new designs incorporate emergency generators to protect against grid power outages.

Another Bio-Gard/Zoeller collaboration is FairCom Corporation’s 125-employee office complex beside Interstate 70 just outside Columbia. FairCom’s management wanted an environmentally friendly system, which Bio-Gard designed and will help maintain. The system requires monthly inspection and cleaning, for which Bio-Gard will train a FairCom groundskeeper.

The 3,000 gpd system has a 10,000-gallon septic tank with two effluent filters. Discharge from the septic tank goes to a Zoeller-designed lift station. The groundskeeper checks the lift station’s pump regularly to ensure that it is working properly. The lift station pumps the effluent 800 feet laterally and 70 feet uphill to a Zoeller recirculating gravel filter that can treat 4,500 gpd.

The treated effluent from the recirculating filter is well below 10 ppm BOD and TSS. This effluent seeps into the soil from 9,000 linear feet of Netafim drip irrigation tubing installed eight inches below the surface in a permanently allocated landscaped green space behind the building.

Man with a mission

Bio-Gard’s plans for the future include computerizing its maintenance record system and buying a pumper truck to extend its maintenance business. The company’s fleet also includes four trucks, a Takeuchi excavator and track loader, a Case Maxi Sneaker for installing drip irrigation systems, a Case dozer, and an 18-foot enclosed cargo trailer.

Through his training endeavors, Kyle hopes to change how installers view their work. “Too many installers are too concerned with getting the installation in the ground and paid for, and not concerned enough about how the systems perform,” he says. “When presented with an engineered system design, they don’t understand how or why it works. This needs to be changed.

“Some installers view wastewater installation as just a job. It is a profession. They need to understand that the costs of doing business include fixed costs such as insurance, rent, property tax and utilities. These overhead costs need to be figured in to make a decent profit.”

Kyle believes an installer business should make a good return on its owners’ investment. “Installers who don’t think enough of themselves or the services they provide fail to establish appropriate fees,” he says. “Everyone who takes the risk that installers and their employees take is entitled to a certain quality of life that should include health insurance, retirement benefits, vacation time, and maintenance time to repair, restore, and restock the equipment and supplies necessary to do the job.”

Kyle believes installers need to familiarize themselves with advanced and alternative systems and understand the new technologies that will benefit their customers and the environment. He sees a positive sign in growing attendance at trade shows as contractors begin to consider new technologies.

He also observes that most states now have onsite installer organizations. In 1995, Kyle helped establish the Missouri Smallflows Organization (MSO), of which he is a past president. MSO has about 500 members, and holds an annual trade show in Columbia. 

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© Onsite Installer (April, 2005)