City awash in sewer problems
The city of Fairfield is in for major repairs to its sanitary sewer system.
Wastewater plant superintendent Shawn Worley said the city’s sewer system has many problems, one of which is the wastewater plant itself. He said the plant is failing miserably and that it needs constant corrective maintenance. He said the plant is still producing high quality water, but the equipment malfunctions consume far too much of his employees’ time.
The wastewater plant shut down March 9 because of an equipment malfunction after a few days of heavy rain. The shutdown caused 459,000 gallons of untreated sewage to flow into Crow Creek.
The plant is not the only piece of capital the city has to worry about. Rainwater is able to enter the sanitary sewer in numerous places throughout the city, both because of cracks in the sanitary sewer line and because of direct connections from storm water lines.
City Administrator Kevin Flanagan said all storm water and sanitary sewer mains were connected decades ago because the prevailing philosophy at the time was to reduce pollution by diluting it with clean rainwater. Now that cities treat their sewage in treatment plants, they cannot afford to combine the storm water and sanitary sewer lines because the amount of water is too great.
Fairfield’s wastewater plant is designed to handle 4 million gallons per day. Worley said a heavy rain can force the plant to treat 17 to 18 million gallons a day because of the inflow and infiltration of rainwater.
Unfortunately for the city and its residents, not all of the sewage arrives at the plant on those days with heavy rain.
The city has 13 sites in town where the sanitary sewer might be overflowing out of the mains. Worley said a 3-inch rain can cause sewage to come out of the line because it’s not large enough to handle both the sewage and the rainwater.
“During this last snow melt, we had a bypass,” he said. “So much water came through these inflows and infiltrations we couldn’t treat it all. We put it in storage ponds. We filled them, and then they started overflowing.”
Melanie Carlson of the city’s contracted engineering firm French-Reneker-Associates said during a heavy rain the sewage has no place to go but out the top of the manholes. One of the known overflow points is at the Fairfield Golf & Country Club.
Worley said the sanitary sewer overflows the city is now trying to eliminate were once encouraged as a means to prevent basements from flooding.
Flanagan said the city is planning to repair these problems throughout a 20-year period. Carlson said the city will have to do the work in phases because it’s simply not feasible financially to do the repairs all at once.
“If we did all the sewer systems at once, no one could get anywhere around town because it would be dug up,” she said. “We couldn’t find enough local contractors to do the work.”
The city plans to fix the mains and improper connections on the east side of town first because city officials believe that side to contain most of the problems relating to sewage overflow.
Carlson said it won’t be just the city that will make numerous repairs in the next two decades. The city had its sanitary sewer smoke tested to discover where rainwater was entering the system. Carlson said more than 50 percent, if not three-quarters, of the defects in the sanitary sewer line were discovered on private lines.
The city will require those individuals to fix their lines.
The city is in the process of purchasing a sewer camera worth about $150,000, which it will send into the sewer to find the leaks.
In order to pay for these repairs, Flanagan said the city will have to raise its sewer fees continually throughout the next eight years, although he said it was too soon to say how much they will rise.