A Remote Area of the Grand Canyon Is the Perfect Place for an Easy Precast Concrete Septic Tank Installation.
By Bridget McCrea
Photos courtesy Yavapai Precast
The 130-year-old pioneer ranch is located on the northern side of the Grand Canyon, at least 11 miles from the nearest paved road and 30 miles from the power grid. For water to be pumped to the ranch, it must wend its way from a natural spring and through a two-mile pipeline that ends at the facility’s ranch house.
It is there that large groups of volunteers and researchers convene and work together on ecological issues related to one of America’s most spectacular natural treasures: the Grand Canyon. But when the pipeline fails for any reason, the water flow stops, leaving the ranch and its 20 or more volunteers without restroom facilities.
After dealing with the issue for years, The Grand Canyon Trust decided to do something about it, so in September 2006, a 1,250-gallon, modified precast concrete septic tank was installed to serve as a backup system for the traditional plumbing.
“All we had before was one small bathroom facility,” says Rick Moore, director of the Flagstaff, Ariz.-based Kane and Two Mile Ranch Program. His group restores and maintains the ecological and scenic integrity of the landscape north of the Grand Canyon known as the Kane and Two Mile ranches, a span of 850,000 acres.
The organization restores productive grassland, shrub land and forest ecosystems; protects unique and sensitive natural resources such as springs, ancient forests and remnants of native grasslands; and restores and maintains thriving, viable populations of a full range of native species. The green group helps maintain ecologically and economically sustainable land used to benefit local economies and support ongoing management activities, and promotes inclusive, conservation-based land management by engaging citizens and local, state, tribal and federal government agencies.
Moore says he learned of the precast option from Yavapai Precast, Prescott, Ariz. Yavapai works with the Boy Scouts of America, which came up with the design, to install similar products at the organization’s remote camps in northern Arizona. “We asked Yavapai Precast to come out and look at our setup and build us a septic tank,” says Moore. “We then built a small restroom facility right on top of it.”
The Grand Canyon Trust is a regional, nonprofit conservation organization that advocates collaborative, common sense solutions to the significant problems affecting the region’s natural resources. According to Moore, the group’s work is focused in the greater Grand Canyon region of northern Arizona and in the forests and red rock country of central and southern Utah.
Moore says that the special status of the 130,000-square-mile Colorado Plateau is recognized through the designation of 29 national parks and monuments and 26 wilderness areas, the world’s largest concentration of protected landscapes. In addition, the unprotected wilderness resource of the region is the largest remaining in the contiguous states.
But the plateau is currently undergoing an economic and demographic transformation. “Demands associated with enormous population growth have created a scenario where the ‘old economy’ based in resource extraction competes with a ‘new economy’ centered in recreation and tourism,” Moore explains, adding that a new “boom” in natural resource extraction has resulted in more commercial logging and massive new oil and gas development on public lands, “dramatically increasing the pressure on the region’s rapidly diminishing wild places.”
Moore adds that new roads, real estate development, power generation, surging recreation and other issues are causing the region’s large tracts of undisturbed land to be fragmented into ever-smaller bits of disturbed land, creating disastrous effects on native plants, animals and natural processes. “Springs, creeks and rivers are drying up from diversions and groundwater overdraughts,” says Moore, “all made worse by deepening drought.”
For that reason, the Grand Canyon Trust and, more specifically, the Kane and Two Mile Ranch Program, work with different partners such as communities, institutions and tribes to create lasting conservation solutions. They emphasize collaboration and the use of tools like advocacy and litigation to deal with critical conservation issues. By putting the spotlight on the Grand Canyon’s vast rangelands, the program’s participants expend significant time and resources on long-term, large-scale, on-the-ground restoration activities.
Fulfilling a Need
Getting the programs mobilized and gathering the troops to orchestrate them is one thing, but providing facilities for the researchers is an entirely separate challenge. Moore says he checked out different options before selecting precast concrete septic tanks, including a company that made prefab commodes for the forest and park services.
“That option was pretty expensive. It required us to buy the entire system and have it shipped to a very remote area for assembly,” recalls Moore, who set his sights on precast after realizing the ease of construction and installation. “Using precast concrete gave us the option of building the kind of facility we wanted on the top of it. In many ways it was also much simpler than using one of those large, plastic ball systems.”
The 1,250-gallon tank was built by Yavapai Precast and delivered via company truck – a jaunt of 260 miles. Mark Boehle, precast sales manager, says the tank was modified to include a vent connection and two oval holes on top to accommodate toilet seats. “The top of the tank is actually the floor of an outhouse,” says Boehle, “much like you would see at a campground.”
Moore says installation of the modified tank was “pretty straightforward” and that the ranch’s remote location was the most challenging aspect of the project. “It’s literally out in the middle of nowhere,” he says, adding that it took Yavapai Precast an entire day just to deliver the tank and return to headquarters.
“We knew it was going to be an all-day deal for our driver,” Boehle adds. “That took some careful scheduling, because our drivers can only log so many hours in a day, or they have to stop overnight to rest.”
Weather was another concern, because the tank was being installed during the area’s monsoon season. “We knew that if a really good thunderstorm came through, the roads would be impassable,” says Boehle. “We watched the weather and picked a day that looked like it would be clear. Luckily, everything worked out.”
The rocky terrain was another obstacle, albeit a lesser concern for the precast and the project owner. “We just had to be careful not to have big rocks pushing on the structure,” says Moore, who adds that The Grand Canyon Trust saved money by not having to install shading around the tank as it would have had to do with other materials. “To get a dump truck full of gravel delivered would have cost us about $500, but installing that 8 inches of fine gravel was unnecessary, because we went with precast.”
Measuring the Benefits
Being able to use the top of the precast septic tank as an outhouse floor was a big benefit for this project’s owner, says Boehle, who adds that achieving a similar result with cast-in-place concrete would have been costly due to the camp’s remote location. The prep work would have also been more involved, says Boehle, as the ground would have had to be modified to accommodate the cast-in-place tank.
“The fact that you’d have to run a ready-mixed truck all the way out there would incur a pretty hefty delivery charge,” he says. “When our truck gets there, the ground is already excavated and ready for a 40-minute installation process. It’s pretty simple.”
Moore says that although The Grand Canyon Trust has no immediate need for another precast septic tank, he would opt for the same setup again based on the success of the first project. “We don’t have too many facilities out here,” he says, “but if the need arises, we’ll definitely use that again.”
Project: 1,250-gallon precast septic tank used to build a restroom facility at a 130-year-old pioneer ranch
Owner: The Grand Canyon Trust
Precast Manufacturer: Yavapai Precast, Prescott, Ariz.