Hamilton Kent Blog

Combined sewer overflows: The case for wastewater infrastructure upgrades

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You don’t have to search long to find a recent example of combined sewer overflows (CSOs) in the news.

That’s particularly true in the United States, where outdated water infrastructure and unpredictable weather have led to more than the average number of overflow and flooding events.

In Wisconsin, for example, a series of intense storms led the city of Milwaukee to divert wastewater to local waterways and Lake Michigan — twice in the span of six days. The city has reported a total of four CSOs this year, a number that has not been matched since 2010.

According to the EPA’s most recent data, states reported 1,482 untreated combined sewer overflows (CSOs) in the Great Lakes Basin in 2014. That led to around 22 billion gallons of untreated combined sewage overflowing into the Great Lakes that year.

After more than 9,000 sewage discharge violations of the Clean Water Act, the City of Houston is facing potential legal action from an environmental group. The city issued a statement in response, pointing to grease blockages as a major cause of sanitary sewer overflows, made worse by a growing population and major flooding. To better handle these factors, the city announced it is negotiating with the EPA to upgrade its extensive aging sewer system.

Water surges create cracks in underground pipes. The resulting leaks erode the soil, damage roads and infrastructure and create dangerous sinkholes.

When systems are nearing capacity, combined sewer overflows push wastewater into local streams, lakes and even groundwater. Contaminated water poses a health risk to surrounding communities and the environment, making water undrinkable and spoiling wildlife habitats.

While communities throughout the United States have an urgent need to upgrade their wastewater and sewer infrastructure, funding issues are a constant roadblock.

However, failing to make critical upgrades risks greater expenses down the line — as excess water passes through wastewater treatment plants, municipalities are forced to bear the cost. Even projects that have been implemented over the past few years to install enormous combined sewer holding tanks, which have cost many millions of dollars to construct, still require cities to pay the expense of pumping and treating all of that water.

The time has come to update aging infrastructure by investing in high-quality watertight systems to fully protect our nation’s waterways, communities and the environment.

That means ensuring cities and engineers are requiring the correct rubber gaskets and joint connectors to handle our new water reality, as well as watertight manhole frames and covers to prevent leaks and overflows. Municipalities should look at a broad spectrum of options for adopting green infrastructure to reduce run-off and implement more sustainable solutions.

Combined sewer overflows can be damaging and expensive, especially to our precious water resources, but they are also entirely preventable. Get in touch to find the right watertight systems for your next infrastructure project.