Sewer department officials held a recent meeting to discuss some of the most pressing concerns within the department, underscoring the urgency of addressing these problems. These issues have the potential to impact public health and city infrastructure in various ways, making it vital to explore potential solutions and allocate the necessary resources.
One major problem highlighted during the meeting is the aging infrastructure of the sewer system. The system currently consists of nearly 1300 pump stations, many of which are over two decades old. As the stations age, they require more frequent repairs, resulting in an increasing strain on the budget. This mounting maintenance cost was evident from data presented during the meeting. For instance, in 2016, between August 1st and October 27th, the department dealt with 33 work orders generated through citizen call-ins and 40 work orders through their internal station alert system. Fast forward to 2023, and the situation has significantly worsened, with 77 work orders from citizen call-ins and 177 generated through station alerts during the same time frame. This data clearly demonstrates the rising maintenance burden and associated costs.
Preventative maintenance has also taken a significant hit, with only 297 preventive maintenance work orders executed since July 2022. This falls significantly short of the recommended maintenance frequency of once a year for each station, considering there are approximately 1300 stations in the system. Neglecting preventative maintenance could lead to more frequent breakdowns and system failures.
Further exacerbating the situation is the deteriorating condition of the sewer lines. With over 265 miles of ductile iron pipes identified in the last 20 years, shockingly, zero miles have been inspected and cleaned. A significant portion of gravity sewer lines, around 80 miles, have received maintenance coverage, while 96 miles of pipes remain of an unknown type. Industry standards suggest that sewer lines should be inspected and cleaned every 5 to 7 years. The department has fallen far behind this recommendation, leaving a large portion of the system unchecked and vulnerable to potential issues.
Personnel and equipment shortages are another key issue the sewer department faces. The department should have 11 employees, but due to staffing challenges, they have only averaged about 4.65 employees over the past three years. This shortage significantly hampers their ability to maintain and repair the extensive sewer system effectively. Additionally, equipment woes compound their problems, such as a fleet shortage and aging vehicles that result in costly repairs.
Addressing these pressing concerns requires both operating capital and investments in equipment and infrastructure. The department has identified the need to replace pumps and panels, improve cameras, purchase new service trucks, and focus on preventative maintenance to get the system back on track.
In the capital section, replacing aging electrical panels is a top priority. Many of the panels are 20 to 30 years old and have undergone numerous repairs and rewiring over the years. While they may still function, their reliability is diminishing, and they pose potential safety risks.
Additionally, the city’s sewer system is in desperate need of rehabilitating lift stations. This includes a range of projects with stations like KK37, D71, 173, 291, and 295 scheduled for improvement. These projects are considered shovel-ready, and the department aims to tackle three to five stations per year to maintain and modernize the entire system gradually.
Furthermore, odor control is a recurring issue. Odor problems at key locations such as Sands are being addressed with proposed odor control methods, aiming to reduce the nuisances that neighboring communities experience.
The sewer department is standing at a crossroads, facing critical infrastructure issues that, if left unattended, could pose severe environmental and health risks. It is clear that both financial investments and an overhaul of the department’s operational approach are essential to safeguard the city’s sewer system’s longevity and functionality. As the city continues to grow, it is imperative that immediate action be taken to prevent future crises and mounting expenses associated with repairs and maintenance.