“Where’s all that toilet paper going?”

When Ralph Baker-Dotson hears that question, he chuckles because he knows exactly where it’s going. As the owner of AAA Allied Septic Service, he sees it all, and more. He’s one passionate pumper.

Baker-Dotson is also the president of the Professional Onsite Wastewater Reuse Association of New Mexico, a trade association affiliated with a similar national organization. He’s been in the business for 37 years and is considered one of our state’s experts on rules, regulations and alternatives systems.

As someone who notices things, especially things that relate to homes, I’ve lately noticed a whole lot of septic tank pump-trucks traveling around the Eldorado area. With more than 3,000 households, and everyone with a septic tank and a leach field to handle liquid waste, it’s not a surprising development.

With schools closed and people working from home or hunkered down waiting for an unemployment check, there’s a lot more stuff going into tanks. More flushes, more hand-washing, more laundry loads. It starts to add up and in some cases, starts to back up. That’s when Baker-Dotson gets the call.

As an essential business, he responds to

the urgency of the situation. For many

homeowners, especially those who bought

an existing home in the past decade, they might have no idea how their system works or even where it is.

Their ignorance is understandable. Out of sight, out of mind. But when another of the five senses is piqued,

it’s hard to ignore. Back in 2005, the



state of New Mexico passed a law that said all sales of existing homes with

a septic tank had to have the tank pumped and inspected by certified professionals.

That was a boon to Baker-Dotson’s industry and reassured homebuyers that systems were up to par. It also lulled new occupants into a false sense of oblivion. Septic systems are not like municipal systems — they need maintenance and service. Unfortunately, the trigger for maintenance is not always a pleasant experience.

Baker-Dotson reports home transfer jobs have all but stopped in recent weeks and were down locally in the past couple of years because of the lack of churn in existing home resale markets. But the last few weeks have seen a significant uptick in calls from people who can’t ignore the wafts percolating up on their property and in their homes.

It’s the kind of work that is easy to do in our days of social distancing. Trust me, you want to stay in the house with the windows and doors closed when Ralph’s crew shows up. You can pay with a credit card over the phone and all the work is done outside.

The first job is to find the tank and expose the lid, which is usually a couple of feet below the ground. Don’t worry

if you don’t know where it is; the pros can find it and dig it up. Hopefully, unlike at our home, someone didn’t put

a flagstone patio over the tank lid. We found that out the hard way a few years back.

Septic tanks and leach fields are regulated by the New Mexico Environment Department. Fortunately for many, the size and capacity are determined by number of bedrooms, not bathrooms. A three-bedroom home in Eldorado, for instance, is presumed to have four occupants — two in the master and one each in other bedrooms.

But the average household in the area is just over two people, which means many systems have capacity for twice the number of occupants. Still, they can and will fill up and when they do, it’s time to call Baker-Dotson or any one of the members of his profession.

Kim Shanahan is a longtime Santa Fe builder and former executive officer of the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association. Contact him at shanafe@aol.com.

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