Many rural agricultural areas across the United States have issues with nitrate contamination in their groundwater but lack the funds to build a large water treatment plant. That’s where Filtra-Systems steps in. The Oklahoma-based company has created the Voyager, a mobile water treatment station that is more affordable than a full-scale facility. Small communities can buy one or more Voyagers to treat their water, or can enter into service contracts with Filtra, reducing their up-front costs even more.
In this interview, Kent Foster, Filtra’s senior vice president of business development, speaks with Irrigation Leader about his company’s solution and why it makes sense for rural communities with nitrate contamination issues.
Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position.
Kent Foster: I started as a manufacturing employee, went through trade school, became a welder, over time rose through the ranks of the shop, and in my early 20s, became a plant manager for Siemens Dematic. I oversaw its manufacturing facilities in Oklahoma and Texas and spent time in some of its facilities in California and Alabama. About 16 years ago, I went to work for Chickasaw Nation Industries, which has a manufacturing facility in Marietta, Oklahoma. Eventually I became the vice president of operations. Today, I’m senior vice president of business development for a company called Filtra-Systems, which is wholly owned by Chickasaw Nation Industries. We have manufacturing facilities in Marietta and in Tennessee, each about 120,000 square feet in size, and an engineering office in Farmington Hills, Michigan, right outside Detroit. We have about 165 employees in total.
Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about Filtra and its services.
Kent Foster: Filtra-Systems is a solutions-based organization that provides turnkey engineering, manufacturing, installation, and maintenance services for filter systems. We’ve got over 40 years of industry experience, specializing in large custom-designed industrial filtration and separation products supporting the municipal, energy, industrial, and automotive markets. We have the ability to deliver mobile systems as well as modular systems. We have over 50 patented products, and we ship products to every continent except for Antarctica.
Irrigation Leader: Who are your clients?
Kent Foster: In the automotive industry, we serve as a tier-one and tier-two supplier to all the major automotive companies and manufacturers. We also work with most major oil and gas companies. In the municipal market, we work directly with municipalities as well as engineering consultant firms.
Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about Filtra’s services as they relate to groundwater in rural agricultural areas.
Kent Foster: One of our main focuses is on small rural communities. About 8 months ago, we started a big campaign here in Oklahoma. We’re working to build out an innovative model to bring economical water treatment to about 12 different small rural communities. The solutions that have been available in the past have not been affordable, and it is a challenge even now to improve water quality in rural areas due to limited capital. When it comes to groundwater, we’re doing a lot of benchmark and pilot field testing related to nitrate contamination. In farming country in Oklahoma and across the continental United States where nitrogen is used for beneficial farming purposes, that’s a continual challenge. In Oklahoma, when nitrates reach the 10 parts per million level, water no longer meets drinking quality standards. Over the last year and a half, we have designed and tested some specialized products that will help alleviate those challenges.
One of our products is a mobile water treatment facility called the Voyager. When it arrives on site, you attach a power source to the unit, and you can be treating water in a matter of hours. This particular system is an granular activated carbon (GAC)/ion-exchange system that uses a variety of proprietary media to remove a multitude of constituents. It is capable of filtering 350 gallons of water a minute. In rural communities that derive their drinking water supply from groundwater, the water is drawn out of a well and held in a raw water holding tank. That’s where we connect the Voyager to filter the water and remove the nitrates.
The Voyager isn’t limited to just nitrate removal; it is a full-fledged chemical-removal system. Our systems use both ion exchange and GAC. In addition to nitrates, we can remove or lower sulphates, phosphates, arsenic, and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS compounds are carcinogenic compounds that are found in water across the continental United States and are an increasing topic of concern. We are quickly becoming a leader in PFAS removal. We can also treat water for total organic carbon, disinfection byproducts, color, and odor, which are common pain points for water in rural communities across the continental United States.
Currently, our clients are mainly in Oklahoma, but we expect and plan to expand our footprint beyond the state. As of right now, we have built 38 units.
Irrigation Leader: How much do the Voyager units cost?
Kent Foster: The unit itself is typically around $450,000– 500,000. We can also enter into service contracts with municipalities to filter their water on a per-thousand-gallon basis. Typically, those contracts last for a certain duration. That helps municipalities that don’t have a lot of up-front capital to use our services without taking out a huge loan.