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How Coronavirus Will Create a Surge in Sanitary Sewer Overflows

Kurt West
Mar 23, 2020 4:15:00 PM

Impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic are more wide-ranging than one might think -- one small, but very disruptive impact is that it could end up causing problems in the country's sewage system.

What started as a shortage of toilet paper due to panic-buying, led to people purchasing other alternatives to do the job. Now, officials are worried that the use of wipes, paper towels and the like, could cause damage and blockages in city pipes and sewer systems.

Flushing wipes clogs pipes

What people flush might be “out of sight, out of mind,” but it still has to go through a sewage system. These wipes consolidate into a collection or ball of wipes, creating enough mass to clog the capacity of pipes, or in other cases clog pumps downstream.

It’s important to educate your customers on the impacts wipes can have on your infrastructure. This challenge is not a new one, just amplified: sanitation workers have compared the problem to “flushing rags down the toilet” because they just don’t break down. Imagine if half your community’s population flushed a rag down the toilet each day.

Even “flushable” wipes aren’t very flushable. In fact, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection states that “even when a product is labeled 'flushable' it generally means that it will clear your toilet bowl. It does not mean it will definitely clear your pipes or break down in the sewer system or at a wastewater treatment plant.”

Sewage overflow

Due to the scope of this pandemic, utilities should expect a sharp rise in work orders pertaining to sewer issues even if communication is handled proactively.

For this reason, it is important to detect and diagnose blockages early in order to prevent a surge in Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs). Administering an effective CMOM program with continuous monitoring of system capacity and maintaining data on your underground infrastructure are the keys to solving this problem the right way. In the immediate term, at the very least it will be important for your utility to have a well-implemented work order management system to dispatch crews to solve issues at a moment’s notice.

Key takeaways:

  • Utilities should expect a sharp rise in work orders pertaining to sewer issues
  • Diagnosing blockages early will be critical to avoid overflows
  • Communicating with customers and educating them on the impact of wipes is an important step to take now -- regardless of what the label says, throw wipes in the trash, not toilets

How Utility Cloud can help

Utility Cloud solves the issue of condition-based and predictive system maintenance by offering a CMOM solution so you can prevent SSOs, maintain your underground infrastructure, and prioritize work based on condition.

By leveraging asset metadata to determine the condition of your catch basins and sewer mains and building an optimized schedule for maintenance, Utility Cloud allows you to effectively prioritize work while staying in compliance.

Utility Cloud can also connect to sensors in your pipes to monitor flow data and blockages or capture inspection data from the field – both informing an optimal schedule and asset management plan.

Stay ahead of the long-term damage this may cause to sewer systems. Educate your customers, diagnose blockages earlier to avoid SSOs, and develop a maintenance plan to protect the longevity of the pipe and sewer system.

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