Clean and efficient sewer systems are vital to a community’s residents and businesses alike. To most people the words clean and sewers are not usually associated together, however this is exactly what most utilities strive to achieve in keeping their complex sewage collection and treatment systems working efficiently. Normally wastewater is moved through a series of mains using gravity or pumps with little interruption, eventually terminating in some sort of treatment facility. On some occasions obstructions in a main or pump can disrupt this flow and cause a backup or worse, an overflow. Users can introduce potential obstructions in different ways.By practicing a few simple steps, these same users can help cut down on backups and overflows. Some of the more common obstructions that are found by utility workers will be discussed.

Rags, plastic bags and feminine hygiene products are items that are encountered regularly in lift station pumps, and sewer mains. These items when introduced to the sewer system can cause pump impellers and check valves to become clogged and inoperable. When this happens the pump can no longer move wastewater through the sewer mains and if not corrected promptly, a backup can occur. Sewer system users can help avoid this problem by not putting these types of items down their toilets or drains, instead they should be thrown in the trash when possible.

Another major problem that is seen in sewer mains and pumps is the accumulation of grease. Large grease formations have caused numerous problems for many utilities throughout the country. Grease is usually introduced as a liquid, but quickly hardens up as it cools down. Over time small particles bind together and attach themselves to the inner walls of mains and pump parts. Eventually these formations will cause the system to fail. If not corrected, a major backup or overflow may occur. Problems can be mitigated by limiting the amount of grease that is introduced to the sewers. Homeowners should be strongly encouraged to dump cooled hardened grease into the trash and not down the drain. Businesses that have a grease trap as part of their plumbing system should have these devices maintained on a regular basis. This may include getting the trap pumped by a vacuum truck or by treating with some type of commercial de-greaser. Businesses that do not have a grease trap should consider installing one of these devices or by taking alternative measures to prevent grease from entering the sewer system.

Sewer obstructions and grease can be minimized but not eliminated all together. Some items always manage to make it into the sewer system. Many systems have well planned preventive maintenance plans in place. Utility workers perform visual inspections and when needed, cleaning functions on clogged mains and pumps. Sewer backups and overflows are events that should be avoided at all costs. These events can be inconvenient and messy for all involved. By taking a few simple steps, these types of sewer problems can be kept to a minimum.