Awareness is Key to a Clean Environment

By Amy Sorkin Kurland - May 2006 - Onsite Water Treatment

The watershed of New York state's Skaneateles Lake is the second-largest unfiltered water source in the country, and less than 10% of its surrounding properties are sewer-served - the perfect location for showcasing the cutting-edge, market-ready technologies for handling wastewater onsite.

With the increasing reports of global warming and environmental waste (not to mention the current state of world politics), it’s easy to adopt a “we’re all doomed” kind of attitude in terms of protecting the environment.

But the truth is, we can play a more active role in protecting our water than most of us realize. Often the only thing standing in our way is simply a matter of not being informed of all our options. And that’s largely why the National Onsite Demonstration Program (NODP) was created—to raise awareness.

Co-funded by The City of Syracuse (NY) Department of Water and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the NODP was invited to encourage the use of alternative, onsite wastewater treatment technologies. The NODP, which began in 2003, is basically a showcase of effective alternative onsite wastewater technologies in action at various sites on the Skaneateles Lake watershed in Onondaga County, NY.

Although it might sound like a marketing effort, selling the equipment right then and there is really not the point of the NODP. The program’s mission is to introduce these technologies to homeowners, developers, engineers, and regulators as a means of protecting public health, ensuring water quality, and sustaining the environment. “So far, these new technologies have been regionalized and not yet absorbed fully into other parts of the country,” says Eric Murdock, NODP project manager. Other objectives include establishing performance-based design standards, developing uniform regulatory framework, and providing training for project personnel.

Many of the NODP onsite wastewater technologies are not only as—or more—effective than conventional centralized treatment systems, but they are often more cost-efficient as well. In addition, one of their biggest advantages is that many can perform in areas where conventional systems fail. The sites chosen for the NODP are lakefront properties that have had a history of onsite wastewater treatment system (OWTS) failures due to challenging conditions for conventional systems. Examples of such challenges include shallow depth to bedrock, poor percolation rate, steep slopes, shallow groundwater table, and poor soils for biological treatment, to name a few. On these selected sites, OWTSs have been installed to replace the ineffective conventional drainage systems.


Skaneateles Lake, the fourth largest and third deepest of the Finger Lakes, is one of the few large-system surface water supplies in the country that’s still approved as an unfiltered water supply. Enjoying a long history of watershed protection, the Skaneateles Lake watershed was one of the first in New York state to have formal watershed rules and regulations. This watershed includes one village and seven towns within the counties of Onondaga, Cayuga, and Cortland. Since 1894, this lake has been the primary supply of drinking water for the city of Syracuse and its surrounding communities.

For its approximately 15 miles of length, one mile of width, and 300 feet of maximum depth, it has a relatively small watershed covering 59 square miles and a water surface area of 14 square miles. This is one of the reasons why it’s such a challenge to use conventional drainage systems on the watershed properties.

The lake’s water is of exceptionally high quality, partly due to its watershed protection history and partly due to the small watershed-to-lake surface area, which is believed to be responsible for the lake’s low biological productivity level. In other words, there’s only a minimal amount of algae and other plant forms living in the lake as compared with other bodies of water. As a result, the water has a high level of clarity allowing light to penetrate deep into the lake and giving it a beautiful, rich, blue-green color.


The Glen Haven restaurant, a popular seasonal tourist attraction on Skaneateles Lake in Cortland County, is currently the only commercial property participating in the NODP. The Glen Haven has a long history of what many would call a restaurant nightmare: untreated sewage surfacing in its parking lots and running into the lake. Several factors are responsible for the drainage problems, including the restaurant’s proximity to the lake, the high strength of the restaurant waste (grease, oil, etc.), poor soils, shallow depth to bedrock, and limited area in which to place a septic system.

Before the restaurant was part of the NODP, it had been using an outdated and undersized septic tank that had been discharging to failing dry wells (aka seepage pits). The equipment being demonstrated at the restaurant now, installed in May 2005, is Knight Treatment Systems’ microbial inoculator generator. The system was cleverly named the White Knight because it “comes to the rescue” of septic systems that are not working properly. The White Knight enhances the performance of and restores biologically clogged septic absorption systems.

“We don’t make onsite water treatment systems,” says Mark Noga, vice president of the Oswego, NY-based company, “we make them better.” The White Knight accomplishes this by introducing selected, task-specific microorganisms to the existing septic system. The White Knight itself is literally placed inside the septic system.

In addition to unclogging septic systems, the White Knight helps break down fats, oils, and grease (FOG) that make treating restaurant wastewater such a challenge. To get an idea of the strength of the waste produced by the Glen Haven, a typical residence produces approximately 150-300 mg per liter of biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), whereas for the year prior to the placement of the White Knight, the Glen Haven was producing approximately 2,000-2,500 mg per liter of BOD.

The White Knight changed the Glen Haven’s existing septic system from an anaerobic ecology to an aerobic ecology. “Aerobic microorganisms are far quicker in terms of taking and degrading these waste compounds to their elemental forms,” explains Noga. “Every technology out there, until this came along, simply focused on creating a work space and environment that would allow biology to naturally happen. This technology is like an employment agency that screens prospects and places only the best. We put it in the septic tank and use the tank as a breeding reactor for a team for selected microorganisms. Then we release them into the rest of the system to degrade the waste into carbon dioxide and water.”

As of now, over 1,000 White Knights are in use across the US and in Canada. The systems are installed and maintained by trained professionals and can be used in both residential and commercial facilities. For residential use, they require maintenance about twice a year. For commercial use, this can be anywhere from four to six times a year, depending on the circumstances.

Air bubbles roll in a Knight Treatment Systems
White Knight Microbial Innoculator/Generator.

We put it in the septic tank and use the tank
as a breeding reactor for a team for selected
microorganisms. Then we release them
into the rest of the system to degrade
the waste into carbon dioxide and water.
© Septic Preservation RI, Inc., 319A West Beach Road, Charlestown, RI 02813 ~ 401.322.7669