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Total reclaim

October 11, 2010
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Robert Casey of Stokesdale, NC, owned what many carwash owners would consider an ideal piece of carwash property.

  • There were no other carwashes within 7-10 miles of his site; and
  • The surrounding area had significantly grown in the past several years.

However, in 2003, when Casey was ready to get started with his business, B & G Carwash, a major problem emerged: the site had no municipal sewer access.

That's when my business, Carwash Concepts, Thomasville, NC, was called to help provide a total reclaim solution to his site.

Casey's property was in an ideal location for a self-serve and in-bay touch-free carwash, and we realized we needed to step up to the plate on this one because more and more of the sites that we consider for our customers were rural and without municipal sewer or water access.

Jumping over hurdles

When Casey contacted the state's Department of Environmental and Natural Resources Division of Water Quality (DENR) to request a permit that would allow his wash to use a septic system and drain field in conjunction with a reclaim system for wastewater disposal,

DENR rejected the idea stating that the division was not issuing permits for this type of use due to the large number of failures, specifically in carwash applications.

The main failures included:

  1. Standing water due to excessive use;
  2. Undersized systems; and
  3. Environmental contamination.

Luckily, Eric Wu, of URS Corporation in Charlotte, NC, ended up being the project's savior. Wu and URS Corporation had an extensive background in developing wastewater treatment facilities up to and beyond 10 million gallons-per-day.

Alternatives considered

Any option would be costly — on both the equipment side and ongoing operational cost. In addition, any system chosen would require a reclaim system to reduce the amount of wastewater, which would also add to the price tag.

After months of deliberation, Wu recommended the following options:

1) Drip or spray irrigation

This option required lots of additional land area to effectively remove all of the water generated by the carwash — even after the reduction by the reclaim system.

Also mandatory were stringent tests of the discharge water to assure the state that the water had no harmful effects on the environment. The permitting process was long and carried no guarantee that it would be a success.

2) Evaporation

This option did not require the same stringent test as drip or spray. In addition, the permitting process was much shorter than the irrigation permit.

However, the ongoing operation expenses were too cost-prohibitive to even consider this option.

3) Deionization

This option involved a non-discharge permit from the state so the wash could store any wastewater on-site, then treat and reuse most of this water.

However, deionization requires an outside, environmental disposal company to process the water, which could be costly for an owner who is willing to purchase the equipment and handle the often dangerous chemicals necessary to clean the system.

Choosing a new alternative

At this point, Dean Taylor with CATEC water recovery systems in Sarasota, FL, joined the building team after he spoke with me about the reclaim system need for this project.

While discussing the obstacles facing this site, Dean indicated that he had a prototype system he was currently using in tunnel washes with success.

After several conference calls involving all members, a rinse water system was chosen largely because it would work with the reclaim system.

Scrutinizing the system

Complying with a non-discharge water permit was a new effort on our part so the carwash team was not prepared for the scrutiny placed upon the project.

First, Wu needed to evaluate the complete system and all of its calculations before he could give it his engineer's stamp of approval.

Next, the permit application for the state of North Carolina was prepared. In preparing the permit, the group was required to present water samples of before and after the system to determine the water quality.

At this point we developed extensive water calculations, car counts, flow diagrams, and descriptions of all parts of the system and the role played within the system.

In addition, two monitored 1500-gallon tanks were placed in the ground for backup should any systems fail. If water began to fill these tanks, the monitoring system had to notify two people.

This requirement was met by working with Corona, CA-based Imagine Innovations which provided the facility with a complete remote video and monitoring system able to check levels and pressures in the reclaim and overflow tanks.

Permit perfection

The permit application was then completed and submitted to the state. Requests for more information ensued and several months passed before the project's fate was learned.

Finally, in November of 2004, the Division of Water Quality granted the permit. The building and zoning permits had already been obtained so it was time to build.

Construction was completed in six months and the equipment was installed and tested. Final inspection and receiving the Certificate of Occupancy was all that was left on the checklist.

At this point Wu signed off on the project as an independent engineer ordered to confirm that the system was installed as called for by local requirements, then the state sent its own engineer to the site to verify all systems were operational and the monitoring system was in place.

The county performed the final inspection and awarded the Certificate of Occupancy which allowed Casey to operate his wash and offer a grand opening to the public.

Jimmy Sisk is vice president of Car Wash Concepts, Inc. in Thomasville, NC, a manufacturer and distributor of carwash equipment as well as a builder of carwash structures in the Southeastern US. To contact him, e-mail

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