Sanitary Sewer Overflows are Cause for Concern, but they can be Managed.

EPA estimates suggest that every year approx. forty thousand sanitary sewer overflow (SSO) events occur resulting in the discharge of over 2 billion gallons of untreated wastewater into the environment. As a result, record sums are being spent per annum on the clean-up and repair of damaged infrastructure, transportation assets, municipal water supplies and treatment facilities as well as risk to our watercourses. With better strategic planning and foresight, public works agencies have been able to significantly reduce these occurrences through various approaches. The following information seeks to identify known problem areas and outline proven solutions.

A growing number of municipalities and special districts responsible for managing wastewater systems face seemingly insurmountable challenges in adhering to court mandated consent decree orders and/or agreements with environmental groups and regulatory agencies, all the while, operating with shrinking budgets and resources. The risk of not meeting these requirements not only endangers public and environmental health but often results in large fiscal consequences. As public works agencies continue to operate under larger constraint, management system implementations are a powerful tool capable of empowering an organization through the optimization of current assets and resources.

Many avoidable SSOs occur as a result of inadequate or negligent operation/maintenance, inadequate system capacity, and improper system design and construction. Extensive process evaluations have led to the identification of key factors offering substantial ROI through cost effective solutions. Several of these key factors are identified as bearing responsibility for the majority of an organizations output. These results are in line with Pareto’s principle (the 80/20 rule) which states that 20% of the input creates 80% of the result. In the case of SSOs, the most significant input improvements often can be identified as the streamlining of maintenance and rehabilitation workflows as well as the utilization of advanced technologies such as GIS, CCTV, and computer maintenance management systems (CMMS).  As an example, in one case, a Geographical Information System (GIS) and Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) were linked to a newly implemented CMMS system. As a result of the insight gained from the cohesive system, the organization was empowered to develop more effective asset maintenance schedules, track work output, and improve operations in a significantly more efficient manner. These implementations resulted in streamlined operations and increased quality of work as a direct result of improved maintenance scheduling, improved work reporting, and more complete asset data reporting.

For a case study on two California cities which were able to significantly reduce their occurrence of sanitary sewer overflows, without assigning any additional resources or costs, click here.

For more information on best business practices and systems and our approach to implement them, click here.

1. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Washington, DC. "Sanitary Sewer Overflows and Peak Flows", Updated February 2012.2.

2. “Why Control Sanitary Sewer Overflows?”, SSO Case Study. EPA.GO