By Gary Battenberg
This is the first in a series of articles and is presented somewhat in reverse of what one would normally expect to read in a start-up manual. I used this technique when I met with prospective dealers as a factory representative and our first task was to identify the type(s) of water in that market. We would visit grocery stores to see what type(s) of salt were carried and hardware and plumbing supply outlets to see what kinds of filters and chemicals were commonly sold. These techniques will be spelled out in much more detail in subsequent articles.
Once you decide…
So…you have made the decision to venture out and open your own water treatment business. Congratulations and welcome to our industry. This article is intended to provide you with a checklist of details that must be completed to ensure a successful start-up and launch into your market area. Besides the formalities that are necessary to establish before your doors open (including your business license, staffing, policy and procedures, sales and marketing, accounting, insurance, inventory control and the like), there is the most important detail of all – selecting an equipment supplier or suppliers for the water treatment challenges for which you will be providing services.
Identify the water problems
With so many companies to choose from, how do you identify the right company for your market needs? We’ll revisit this issue later on in this article. The first step is to know what types of water problems are present in your market area. Is your primary market serviced by a municipal water treatment plant? If so, what is the source of the water supply, i.e., surface water, groundwater or a combination of sources? Next, obtain a copy of the water reports, including the ‘highest known’ levels of the reported analytes. This will be very valuable in helping you standardize your product line for the city market when meeting with prospective equipment suppliers. This information will also help them to guide you in selecting the proper equipment for your market.
If your market includes well water and/or small community water systems, it is worth your while to find out what kinds of problems you may encounter in those areas by talking to well drillers and well service contractors. These companies are among the best sources of information for identifying problems associated with iron, manganese, hydrogen sulfide, tannins, high and low TDS and pH levels. Another source for this information is the health department, the county extension agent, the state engineer’s office and the local office of the US EPA. Additionally, you can find out if there are other regional concerns regarding contaminants like arsenic, uranium, lead, nitrate/nitrite, fluoride and petrochemical byproducts (like MTBE, a gasoline oxygenate or perhaps others like perchlorate, a byproduct of rocket fuel and munitions manufacturers).
Your background and experience should be your guide in selecting your market. If you are new to the groundwater treatment arena, I strongly urge you to proceed with caution, especially where problem water is concerned. Private well water supplies should be evaluated properly to avoid making a mistake in the specification of treatment equipment. Let the following rules be a part of your business foundation.
Rule #1: Test the water
There are three common mistakes that are made when working with well water systems. First, a thorough analysis of the water is often overlooked because you may have been told that all you need to test for is hardness, iron and pH and that these three analytes will give you the foundation you need to treat any groundwater supply. While it is true that these are important, there is much more that should be considered when working with groundwater supplies. You would be wise to consider using the services of a good laboratory that can provide you with the proper water sample collection products and testing protocols that ensure you and your prospective customer receive accurate results that will allow you to specify the type(s) of treatment necessary to satisfactorily resolve any aesthetic quality problems (such as turbidity, odor and color issues) as well as minerals, metals, physical factors and organic compounds. Your customers will quickly appreciate the attention to detail you provide by obtaining a thorough water analysis to reveal other potential problems that may have gone undetected.
Rule #2: Confirm the hydraulics
Secondly, a proper hydraulic assessment of the well system is critical to the success of the application relative to the amount of water the pump can provide at an applied pressure of 30 to 40 psi. Many times, a marginal well that has a limited output and pressure is overlooked and a treatment system is specified that exceeds the hydraulic capabilities of the well. For example, a water analysis report may indicate a high level of turbidity that will require an automatic backwash filter to intercept the turbidity and then flush it out every two or three days. Pay very close attention to the hydraulic characteristics of the well water system. You should perform your own flow test of the well during your initial site visit, in the absence of a well log report. This flow test should also include a simulation of the typical backwash time associated with most backwash filters – usually 10 to 15 minutes. This test will tell you if the well has sufficient recovery to sustain the operational requirements of your specified equipment.
The other side of the hydraulic issue is that of domestically supplied water. Never take for granted that a city water supply will provide sufficient water pressure to allow proper operation of the water treatment equipment. Some municipalities are plagued with low to moderate water pressure while others provide adequate to extreme water pressure. Always check the water pressure to the service plumbing to any residence or commercial prospect. If water pressures exceeding 70 psi are typical in your market, it will be your responsibility to install pressure relief or reducing valves to comply with the manufacturers warranty requirements. Just because the equipment spec sheets say the equipment will work with pressures from 20 – 120 psi, it does not mean that you don’t have to take precautions of your own. (Hint: Most water heater installation instructions indicate a maximum pressure rating of 70 psi.) Check the Uniform Plumbing Code and be aware of any local and state rules ordinances and regulations as well. These are your responsibilities.
Rule #3: Specify the right equipment
Finally, a common mistake is overlooking the operating requirements of backwash filters. Let’s say your selected filter requires a seven-gpm (26.49 liters/minute) backwash rate to sufficiently purge the ’filter cake‘ and smaller particles that may have migrated deeper into the filter bed. Additionally, a filter of this type requires a minimum pressure of 30 psi to effectively lift the media bed to allow the particles to be flushed to drain. In this example, the actual output of the well is five gpm (18.92 liters/minute) @ 30 psi, so shortly after the installation and a couple of backwash cycles, the customer calls your service department with a complaint that the water in their service plumbing is turbid and their previous problems are back. This is the beginning of frustration for both you and your customer. Unless you can resolve this issue quickly, you may lose your customer to the competition. If your service technician cannot resolve the problem, a phone call to the technical service department of your equipment supplier should be the top priority.
The search for a supplier
This brings us back to the first question raised in this article. “With so many companies to choose from, how do you identify the right company for your market needs? ”There are many good products on the market that may fill the bill for your business and you will have fun interviewing those perspective suppliers in your quest to align your self with a solid, reputable company that has all the necessary talent to support you in your business. These talents include marketing and sales literature;, financing and leasing for residential and commercial customers; application, technical and troubleshooting support for equipment installation and service. Field support from a manufacturer’s representative is another important factor to consider when selecting an equipment supplier. The older, well established companies are no doubt a good place to start your search, but do not overlook the newer companies that are building solid reputations of their own. There are a lot of good people with great talent with which to build your solid business and reputation.
Consider the following questions when selecting your manufacturer:
- How stable is the company? Are they a new start-up company with the financial ability to meet the needs of their existing dealers while growing their dealer base?
- Can the company provide you with the support necessary in all areas of your business to help make you the best you can be?
- Can the company assure you that they can accurately recommend the right equipment for your market needs? Provide some application examples for them that include water chemistry and hydraulic characteristics and ask them to specify the right equipment for the application. Then ask them to show you on their equipment specification and engineering charts how their product(s) will perform based on the information you provided, as well as any special hydraulic stipulations that may apply.
- What is the depth of experience the company has in the water treatment industry? Do they truly understand how to counsel you on treating problem groundwater?
- What special environmental conditions are required to comply with installation and operation of their equipment? In the event of a hostile environment, can they provide sound advice on creating a suitable environment for the equipment to perform to specification? Some examples are extreme heat, cold, damp or humid locations, direct sunlight, direct rain, dust and insect and rodent prevention.
Remember, if you would not put your television, microwave or computer in the location you are considering for the equipment, you are possibly placing your company personnel and your customer in harms way. Strict adherence to plumbing, mechanical and electrical laws rules and ordinances are your responsibility. Your reputation rides on how well you attend to all of your responsibilities as a business owner.
Good luck in your business start-up. There is much to know and learn in this wonderful industry. We are making great strides in technological advances and the next few years are going to show us some very innovative ideas that go from the drawing board to the engineering departments and, subsequently, to water treatment dealers’ showrooms. As water problems become more severe, you will be in the position to offer the POU/POE products that will provide dependable solutions to those problems and peace of mind for your customers.
In the next installment in this series we will look at the challenges associated with water chemistry, hydraulic challenges, installation concerns and environmental conditions that all must be dealt with to ensure a long term reliable treatment solution for a customer.
Gary Battenberg is Managing Director of Santa Fe, NM-based Good Water Company, Inc. He has three decades of experience in the field of water treatment processes, including equipment design and manufacturing utilizing filtration, ion exchange, UV disinfection, RO and ozone technologies. Battenberg is also a member of the WC&P Technical Review Committee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (505) 471-9036.
About the company
Good Water Company serves Santa Fe and northern New Mexico residential, commercial, farm and ranch customers with remediation for severe groundwater problems, specifically arsenic, fluoride, nitrate, uranium, silica and high TDS. The locally owned water treatment business, founded in 1988 and purchased by geologist Stephen Wiman, Ph.D. in 2004, is committed to pursuing the most efficient use of precious water resources. Its goal is to minimize the use of chemicals and reduce wastewater in the treatment process. Wiman applies scientific principles and fundamental water chemistry for each individual application and offers state-of-the-art equipment from a variety of manufacturers to solve complex water problems.