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6/10/2004

Water from waste

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — If the words “niche to fill” and “wastewater treatment” have never been used in the same sentence before, let this be the first time.

A Longmont company called Rocky Mountain Pure Inc. has been shopping its XL5 modular wastewater treatment plant around for about a year and a half now, and while its principals have made just one sale so far — to a high-end “eco-spa” in New Mexico — they are continuing to make some inroads in their perceived niche.

“There’s a place in upstate New York that we’re talking to right now,” said Greg Quinn, referring to a resort community.

Quinn, his brother, Stu, and their father, Ed, are the three-person local team of Rocky Mountain Pure. They also have a scientist partner in California, where the treatment plants are manufactured.

At 72 feet long, 12 feet wide and 10 feet high, the XL5 is unusual in several ways: it is a modular, above-ground unit that can be added onto as needed. And the XL5 cleans the wastewater to the highest quality effluent possible — capable of re-use as irrigation for a golf course, for example, or for snow-making for a ski resort.

The units are also fully automated, meaning they save the expense of having to pay to have an operator on site. The XL5 is remotely monitored via satellite by the company.

“It’s not a new technology,” said Greg Quinn. “It’s sort of when computers went from towers to laptops.”

The three Quinns and their partner first started designing in-ground and larger wastewater treatment systems several years ago. But along the way they discovered a hole in a market that hadn’t been successfully filled before.

“We have scaled it down to an above-ground system,” Greg said.

Each XL5 can treat about 50,000 gallons per day, enough for about 200 houses, or 1,000 people.

“You can put one in and expand it two, three or four times as you need to,” said Stu Quinn. The New York resort, for example, is being built in phases, and XL5 units could be added as needed.

“Once these (wastewater) facilities get beyond a certain size they’re not economical,” said Cal Youngberg, water quality technical services manager with the city of Longmont’s Water/Wastewater Utilities.

But the XL5 is targeted at a niche market that will be limited in size, a ski area that’s not hooked up to a municipal wastewater treatments plant, for instance. Or a young community just getting started, with a limited number of homes.

Youngberg said that these types of plants are not new, but they have had mixed results in the past. He and his boss, Longmont Water/Wastewater Utilities director Dale Rademacher, see the XL5’s advantages as being the remote monitoring and the ability of Rocky Mountain Pure to respond anywhere if there is a problem with a unit.

“Putting those two together to me is critical and important to the long-term success of this thing,” said Rademacher.

Another XL5 advantage that Youngberg sees is the ability of the system to treat the water for discharge to the “tertiary” level — an extra step that most facilities don’t achieve.

“That’s really not common in the small facilities,” said Youngberg. “They basically just treat it and discharge it.”

According to Greg Quinn, the water coming out of the XL5 meets standards designated by Title 22 of the California Code of Regulations — what he said were the toughest re-use standards in the nation — and the company can back that up with empirical data.

While a customer purchasing the XL5 might spend six months or longer getting permits, the unit itself takes only about 60 days to manufacture. It is delivered to a site on pallets, and quickly put together — unlike traditional plants which may require multiple crews of contractors for a project.

“Every wastewater system is unique unto itself,” said Greg Quinn. “Ours is taking that equation out.”

“When there’s more than one source putting a system together,” his brother, Stu, said, “there’s always finger-pointing and somebody always gets screwed.”

Greg, 41, was the first of the three Quinns to move out West. He was followed shortly after by Ed, 72. Stu, 45, moved to Longmont from Europe, where he was living a few years ago.

Two of the three have extensive backgrounds in the water-treatment business, and they use their base in Longmont and an office on the East Coast to make sales calls and get the word out across the country about the XL5.

While they admit the portable treatment plant isn’t the solution to every situation, for the niche market they are after, they feel their product can be the answer to a lot of problems.

“As we moved out here and discovered the value of water ... it’s the next high-tech boom, I think,” said Greg Quinn.

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.