September 13, 2007

City Not Just Blowing Smoke About Sewer Improvements

In just a few weeks, residents of Memphis will be able to say that the City is blowing smoke. The idiom is often used to describe government actions that are deceptive. But beginning September 17th, weather permitting, the city’s water department will literally be blowing smoke.

Superintendent Dennis Howard stated smoke testing of the municipal sewer system is scheduled to begin Monday.

“The City of Memphis will be conducting leak testing in the sanitary sewer system by blowing smoke into the sewer lines,” Howard said. “This smoke will reveal sources of sewer odors in your neighborhood as well as locations where storm water and other sources of surface waters are entering the sanitary sewer.”

The project was made necessary by recent reports from the Department of Natural Resources that the city’s lagoon system was exceeding its designated flow amounts.

The city’s three-cell lagoon was designed to serve a population of 2,143 residents with a designed flow of 214,300 gallons. Flow rates have exceeded 500,000 gallons. This issue is mandated by the DNR operating permit, which must be renewed in 2009.

DNR representatives met with city officials in February to address the issue, and encourage the city to seek remedies.

The smoke testing is expected to help the city pinpoint areas of inflow that are causing excessive amounts of storm water to enter the city’s waste treatment system.

Howard indicated tentative plans call for the first stage of the testing to begin the week of September 17th. The testing likely will begin southeast of the city square, in a portion of town with older sewer lines.

“This is the first time we have used this process,” Howard said. “Right now we are not certain how much testing we will be able to do. We hope to finalize plans for the test area after meeting with representatives from the company.”

The contracted service is being provided through the Missouri Rural Water Association.

A special non-toxic smoke will be used in the tests. This smoke is manufactured specifically for this purpose, leaving no residuals or stains and having no effect on plant or animal life.

The smoke does have a distinctive, but not unpleasant odor. The visibility and the smell of the smoke only lasts a few minutes where there is adequate ventilation.

Because the plumbing appliances in homes or businesses are connected to the sanitary sewer system, some of this smoke may enter buildings if one of the following situations exists:

The building’s vents connected to the sewer system are inadequate, defective or improperly installed;

The traps under sinks, tubs, basins, showers or other drains are dry, defective, improperly installed or missing completely;

The pipes, connections, seals of the wastewater drains in or under the building are damaged, defective, have missing plugs, or are improperly installed.

Howard noted that the city is performing the testing to address inflow issues, but residents will also be able to benefit from the project, as it will denote sewer gas leaks in homes and businesses.

“All residents are advised that if traces of this smoke or the odor enters the building it is an indication that sewer gases and odors may also enter the home or building,” Howard said. “These can be both unpleasant and dangerous as well as a health hazard to occupants.”

When the project begins later this month, the city will be placing notification hangars on doorknobs of homes in the testing area to inform the property owner.

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