Engineering Water Treatment Solutions for Kosher Compliance and Beyond

In a dialogue with OU Kosher, Byron and Larry Nickels recount the founding of WATERTECH by their father, Al Nickels, in 1975. With its roots in addressing the unmet needs for local water treatment in the Intermountain West, WATERTECH has grown to specialize in scale and corrosion control for industries, including those with kosher certification requirements. The company’s evolution into equipment specialization and environmental stewardship is highlighted, emphasizing its commitment to sustainability and kosher standards in water treatment. The interview sheds light on WATERTECH’s pivotal role in integrating tradition, technology, and sustainability, underlining its impact on the water treatment industry and the kosher food processing sector.

OU Kosher: Could you share a bit about the creation of the company?

Byron Nickels: All Nickels came to this country at the age of 21, enrolled at BYU, and earned an engineering degree in mechanical engineering. After college and working for various water treatment companies, he saw an unmet need for a local water treatment company in the Intermountain West. 

OU Kosher: What was the reason behind starting WATERTECH in Twin Falls, Idaho?

Byron Nickels: He observed that the larger companies overlooked the Intermountain West. So, he took the initiative to start his own company in Twin Falls, Idaho, and we’ve been growing ever since. 

OU Kosher: Can you define what water treatment entails at WATERTECH?
Byron Nickels: Certainly, WATERTECH specializes in water treatment, focusing on scale and corrosion control in facilities that use water for steam production or cooling. This includes food processing plants, educational institutions, and anywhere steam or hot water boilers or cooling towers are in use. 

OU Kosher: What role does WATERTECH play in industries that require kosher certification?

Byron Nickels: In the kosher sector, we work with a variety of companies, from beverage and food processing to meat and sugar processing. We also serve non-kosher industries like lumber, asphalt production, power generation, and geothermal. We supply chemical additives that treat water to prevent scale and corrosion across these industries. 

OU Kosher: How has WATERTECH evolved since its inception?

Byron Nickels: Initially an industrial specialty chemical water treatment company, WATERTECH has expanded over the last 50 years into three main divisions: traditional water treatment chemicals, a division specializing in equipment such as reverse osmosis, ion exchange, and filtration, and our WATERTECH Environmental Products division, which focuses on wastewater treatment and recycling. 

OU Kosher: How does WATERTECH contribute to wastewater recycling?

Byron Nickels: Our Environmental Products division treats and purifies wastewater back to potable water standards, facilitating the recycling of wastewater for our clients. 

Larry Nickels: I can add that besides chemical blending, we distribute products from major companies and customize equipment packages for our clients. We consult on installations and coordinate with contractors as needed. 

OU Kosher: Does WATERTECH play a part in the sustainability plans of its clients

Larry Nickels: Yes, clients often consult us on sustainability, and we assist in that area as well. 

OU Kosher: In terms of WATERTECH’s services, how do you work with customers on designing their water treatment programs?
Byron Nickels: We invest significant effort in guiding our customers on designing their water treatment programs. This involves considerations of how they use source water within their facility, how it’s utilized during operations, and the methods of discharging it responsibly. 

OU Kosher: How does sustainability fit into this process?
Byron Nickels: Sustainability is a crucial component. We focus on determining the most efficient use of source water in a facility and the optimal treatments before it’s released back into the environment or to municipal sewers. 

OU Kosher: Can you provide examples of facilities that incorporate these sustainable practices?

Byron Nickels: Certainly. Some power generation facilities, for example, ensure that water is treated to meet certain standards before returning it to the environment. Others may reprocess wastewater, making it usable again as a potable water source within the facility after treatment. 

OU Kosher: What is WATERTECH’s extent of involvement in these processes?
Byron Nickels: We’re involved comprehensively, from the initial stages to the conclusion of the water treatment cycle. Many of our clients are in the food processing industry, which often intersects with the kosher requirements you handle. 

OU Kosher: Regarding kosher requirements, how do Water Tech’s products integrate with these needs?

Byron Nickels: Our products, especially those used in steam boilers which interface directly with food processing, must adhere to kosher standards. This ensures that the steam in contact with food complies with kosher certification for the end product. 

OU Kosher: Could you elaborate on the intersection between WATERTECH’s services and kosher certification?

Byron Nickels: When it comes to kosher certification, plants require our boiler water additives—chemicals used in steam production—to be kosher-compliant. These chemicals control corrosion, oxygen levels, and scale formation. It’s essential that the products we use are kosher-certified, allowing the food producers to maintain their kosher status. 

OU Kosher: How do you ensure the kosher certification is upheld with regards to condensate and its interaction with food products?

Byron Nickels: The condensate, which may come into contact with food, is critical. Our kosher-certified boiler chemicals play a role not only in producing steam, but in satisfying the specific requirements outlined by kosher certification authorities. 

OU Kosher: Can you describe the steam’s journey in these processes?

Byron Nickels: The generated steam is used throughout the plant for various processes, including direct food production, where it often makes contact with the product. It’s not only about creating kosher quality steam, but ensuring that all stages meet kosher standards. 

OU Kosher: Do you have an example to help clarify the application of water recycling in this context?

Byron Nickels: To clarify, when discussing water recycling, we’re referring to the reuse of steam condensate within the facility, which must also comply with kosher certification standards during the production process. 

OU Kosher: Can you describe the typical water usage in a food processing plant?

Byron Nickels: A food processing plant typically receives potable water from a municipal source. This water is integral to their product processing. 

OU Kosher: How do you ensure the steam used in food processing meets kosher standards?
Byron Nickels: The steam generated from boilers is treated with kosher-certified products. Even the condensate, which gets recycled back into the system, is treated according to kosher standards in many food processing plants. 

OU Kosher: What solutions does WATERTECH offer for wastewater from processes like boiler and cooling tower blowdown?

Byron Nickels: We assist facilities in capturing and treating wastewater from various processes, repurposing it for use in applications beyond direct food contact, ensuring efficient and sustainable water use. 

OU Kosher: Are the wastewater treatment and recycling processes consistent across different facilities?

Byron Nickels: The technologies to treat and recycle wastewater vary, depending on the facility and whether the process meets the necessary criteria. We work with customers on all aspects of water use within their facility, including scale and corrosion control, ultra-purification, and filtration. 

OU Kosher: Could you provide an example of how WATERTECH’s services intersect with kosher food processing?

Byron Nickels: An example is a cereal processing facility. They are required to use kosher-certified products within their steam plant to ensure any steam contact with food complies with kosher standards. 

OU Kosher: What about the chemical treatments for these plants? Are there any specific kosher requirements you need to meet?

Byron Nickels: The chemicals we use for oxygen scavenging and scale and corrosion control are formulated to meet kosher standards. This ensures that the end product can be packaged and marketed with a kosher certification. 

OU Kosher: In achieving kosher certification, were there any changes required in your chemical mix?

Byron Nickels: We strictly use products with kosher certification for such purposes. Our formulations consist of raw materials from an approved list, adhering to our Schedule A and B standards. 

OU Kosher: How does WATERTECH deal with the challenges of water scarcity in growth plans for facilities like meat processing plants?

Byron Nickels: We encountered a meat processing facility required to limit water use due to city restrictions. They approached us through a consultant we worked with previously. We assessed their water streams, implementing ultra-filtration and reverse osmosis to recycle water for non-direct food contact uses, such as cooling systems. 

OU Kosher: Does WATERTECH also utilize energy recovery in its processes?
Byron Nickels: While energy conservation isn’t our primary focus, it’s a natural benefit of processes like reverse osmosis and boiler applications. For instance, reverse osmosis can significantly reduce the need for fuel in steam production due to the higher purity of water, which also lessens chemical use and environmental impact. 

OU Kosher: How does reverse osmosis contribute to both energy conservation and quality in boiler applications?
Byron Nickels: Reverse osmosis purifies water, reducing the need for frequent boiler blowdowns. This process maintains water quality by managing concentration levels, which, in turn, conserves energy and reduces chemical use for correcting water pH and preventing corrosion. 

OU Kosher: Can you explain the term ‘blowdown’ and its significance in maintaining water quality in boilers?
Byron Nickels: Blowdown is the process of removing a portion of water from a boiler to prevent excessive mineral concentration, which maintains the quality of both water and steam within the system. 

OU Kosher: How does WATERTECH approach the variety of applications and variables in different facilities?
Byron Nickels: There are many applications in this industry, which makes it exciting. One day we might be working in a power plant, the next in a cereal or meat processing plant. While variables are many, the fundamental applications of water treatment remain consistent. 

OU Kosher: How does the process of generating steam for different industries like power plants and food processing compare?Byron Nickels: Whether it’s for a turbine in a power plant or for food processing, the basic process of generating steam is the same. However, the setup and chemistry can differ significantly, especially when it comes to food processing, where both non-kosher and kosher applications require specific chemical treatments. 

OU Kosher: Are there any particular regulations WATERTECH must adhere to in different industrial applications?Byron Nickels: Yes, for industrial applications like power generation, we use products that don’t need to be food-grade. However, we also have to comply with other regulations, such as CFR 173.310, which governs additives used in food processing. When formulating products, we ensure they are approved for use in food processing and meet kosher requirements. 

OU Kosher: Can you explain the complexity of applications due to different regulations?Byron Nickels: Some applications are more complex due to the variety of regulations across industries. For example, chemicals approved for use in potato processing may not be authorized for dairy processing due to different governing rules, even though both are food processing applications. 

OU Kosher: How does WATERTECH ensure compliance with these varied regulations?Byron Nickels: We must be aware of the specific regulations and chemistries that are permissible in each application. In kosher applications, for instance, certain amines can be used in steam systems, but others, like those derived from animal parts, are not kosher-compliant. 

OU Kosher: How does WATERTECH engage with customers to address their water usage and treatment needs?Larry Nickels: From a marketing perspective, we have sales and service technicians who visit existing customers to conduct analyses and provide recommendations. They also spend time prospecting new clients through cold calls and referrals. 

OU Kosher: What is WATERTECH’s approach to building business relationships?Larry Nickels: Most of our business comes from cold calling and referrals. Building relationships within plants is crucial; when a facility encounters issues, like corrosion, they often reach out to us. Gaining business can take anywhere from a few weeks to several years, depending on the situation and the effectiveness of our follow-up. 

OU Kosher: How does WATERTECH assist facilities in recognizing and addressing issues with their water systems?Larry Nickels: Through our service visits and analyses, we help facilities identify potential or existing problems, such as damaged pipes, and provide solutions to mitigate these issues. Education and awareness are part of our ongoing relationship with clients. 

OU Kosher: Could you share WATERTECH’s future goals or any upcoming innovations?

Byron Nickels: Our immediate goal is transitioning the ownership of Water Tech from our father to the next generation. It’s not a challenge, but a significant change. We’re also collaborating with large manufacturers like Veolia to develop and provide feedback on new products. 

OU Kosher: Are there any specific fields of development WATERTECH is focusing on?

Byron Nickels: We’re focusing on eliminating phosphorus from water treatment streams. This is due to the shift away from phosphorus in city discharges, as it’s difficult for municipal plants to process. We’ve developed new chemistries to meet these discharge requirements. Additionally, we’re improving our methods for CO2 reduction in food processing, which involves both our chemistry and equipment divisions. 

OU Kosher: How does WATERTECH maintain a close relationship with its customers?
Larry Nickels: Our sales and service teams, strategically located across multiple states, conduct routine chemical analyses and provide recommendations for our customers. This close-knit relationship is essential, as many plant operators may not fully understand the chemistry involved in water treatment. 

OU Kosher: Can you explain what sets WATERTECH apart from other water treatment companies?
Larry Nickels: Unlike some regional companies that sell chemicals without control over formulations, Water Tech blends its own chemicals and fabricates chemical feeding and handling systems. We offer ‘Safe Systems’—self-contained automatic feeding equipment—that improve safety and environmental responsibility at our customer’s facilities. We also operate our own delivery trucks, ensuring proper handling and reducing the risk of spills. Approximately 75% – 85% of our accounts utilize this system, which also eases our customers’ liability. 

OU Kosher: What advice would you give to businesses that use a lot of water?
Byron Nickels: It’s crucial for water-intensive businesses, especially kosher facilities, to ensure that the chemistry they’re using is actually kosher. There are cases where the products being used do not meet kosher standards, which can be due to a misunderstanding of what is required for kosher certification. It’s important to verify that all materials and processes align with kosher classifications.