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September 25, 2017

Warrenton blowing smoke into leaky sewer system

Photos/Cassandra Brown
Hydrostructures Field Superintendent Jesse Ryan documents leaks outside a home on Rappahannock Street.
David Hughes pumps smoke into a manhole to test for leaks.
Smoke pours from a sewer vent of a Piedmont Street home — a good sign that nothing blocks it.
What we are trying to isolate is where ground infiltration and rainwater get into the sewer system.
— Hydrostructures Field Superintendent Jesse Ryan
Sewer Smoke Testing
• Contractor: Hydrostructures of Pittsboro, N.C., with an office in Virginia Beach.

• Cost: $501,088, which includes $346,088 for smoke testing.

• Sewer line: 19.4 miles in the southeastern portion of the town.

• Town inflow and infiltration: About 582,300 gallons of groundwater and rainwater a day from January to August 2017.

• Wastewater treatment plant capacity: 2.5 million gallons per day.

• Average wastewater flow: 1.71 million gallons — a third of it in filtration — per day from January to August 2017.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
Citizens who notice smoke emerging from the ground in Warrenton neighborhoods over the next few months shouldn’t worry.

For the first time in more than a decade, the town has started conducting full-scale smoke testing of sewer lines to find leaks.

Town officials hope to reduce the daily average of 582,300 gallons of inflow and infiltration — rainwater and groundwater — that seeps into sewer lines and goes to the wastewater treatment plant for processing.

Finding, diagnosing and fixing leaks would reduce the amount of uncontaminated water that gets treated.

The average wastewater flow at the treatment plant so far this year comes to 1.71 million gallons per day, with about one-third of that infiltration. The plant has a capacity of 2.5 million gallons per day.

“If we can patch up the sewer lines that are leaking, then that will extend the life of the sewer system without having to raise taxes to upgrade the wastewater treatment plant,” town Project Manager Larry Oliver said.

“The wastewater treatment plant may still need upgrades based on DEQ (Virginia Department of Environmental Quality) regulations, but as far as capacity, because of rainwater, if you can reduce that, it will save the taxpayers money in the long run,” Mr. Oliver added.

We need to “collect the data, hang on to the data, and then we can prioritize where to invest the taxpayer’s dollar for rehabilitation,” he said.

Last year the town awarded a $501,088 contract with Hydrostructures, based in North Carolina, to smoke test sewer lines in the southeastern portion of Warrenton and monitor rain gauges.

Of that, $346,088 will fund the smoke testing.

“This is a small part of a broader study,” Hydrostructures Field Superintendent Jesse Ryan said. “What we are trying to isolate is where ground infiltration and rainwater get into the sewer system. When you have large rain events, the sewer system can become overwhelmed with this water, and ultimately it’s going to make its way down to the treatment plant and cause it to not be able to process that volume of water at one time which will cause the pumps to run more . . . . It’s going to cause more deterioration of (pumps).”

The company started smoke testing of sewer lines early Tuesday, Sept. 5. They will test about 19.4 miles of sewer lines — about one-third of the town wastewater collection system.

“The smoke testing is a sub-element of the town’s inflow and infiltration abatement program,” Warrenton Public Works Director Edward “Bo” Tucker said. “The town has performed limited smoke testing periodically, probably the last was five years ago on a small scale, with town forces. The last significant effort on this scale was back in the 1990s.”

To test for sewer pipe leaks, the contractors use mineral oil to create nontoxic smoke similar to that used in nightclubs.

That smoke gets blown into manholes and sewer lines. Smoke that emerges from the ground confirms a leaks.

Over the next several months, the contractor will collect information and compile results in a report to the town.

Then, the town will decide how and when to fix those pipes.

“It puts a limitation on development if you don’t have central sewer or water systems,” Mr. Tucker said.

So far, the team has found several leaks coming from manhole covers and missing caps on “laterals,” which connect to a home from the main line.

“A huge red flag I want to find out here would be for example if we were smoking and saw one of the storm drains smoking as well. That means there’s a cross connection between storm and sewer,” Mr. Ryan said. “Not only does that mean sewage could be getting into the freshwater, which you don’t want, but vice versa.”

Smoke may come through sewer pipe vents on houses as well.

To prevent smoke from getting into homes, the town encourages residents to pour water down all drains or cover them with a damp cloth.

The town will notify residents who need to fix lateral sewer line leaks.

Warrenton Sewer Smoke Testing Contract 2017 by Fauquier Now on Scribd

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