Inflow and infiltration (I&I) are ongoing concerns for many wastewater utilities. Even with diligent maintenance of infrastructure, there are limits to what can be controlled. One example of that is leakage in the lateral service lines connecting the sewer utility’s main to sewer customer buildings. Here is how one municipality took advantage of federal and local funding to encourage nearly 2,500 customers to upgrade deficient connections in their lateral service lines — to the tune of more than $4 million.
Arkansas Utility Provides Strong Leadership
After the Little Rock Water Reclamation Authority (LRWRA) in central Arkansas maximized the benefits of refurbishing its 1,314 miles of public sewer mains to mitigate the impacts of I&I on manhole overflows and treatment costs, they realized there was still more improvement to be made. They determined that the next step to achieving further reduction of infiltration was to appeal to the domestic customers among its 67,000 accounts to remediate problems in sewer laterals on customer properties.
The carrot used to entice customer participation in the LRWRA Sewer Service Line Replacement Program was reimbursement funding of up to $2,500 per account. That funding came from a variety of sources, including a combination of a federally supported State Revolving Fund loan as well as funds from the utility’s own $1 surcharge on each domestic water bill. Even though the program was completely voluntary, the utility enticed more than 2,400 applicants to register for the program. The results of the effort were so successful that the utility eventually received an award from the U.S. EPA, recognizing their effort as “exceptional.”
A Little Information Goes A Long Way
The LRWRA outlined the program on its website with a step-by-step graphic description of the process and a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) to put customer minds at ease. Problem areas were identified as a byproduct of smoke testing by the utility on its own mains, as well as by customers and customers’ plumbers. Trouble spots were also pinpointed as a result of slow drainage during wet periods, back-up problems caused by tree-root intrusion into sewer laterals, and other causes.
Whatever the origin of a problem, an application was reviewed by the utility, notification of qualification was issued to the customer, and the customer had 90 days to complete the work. Permits and calls for inspection of completed work were the responsibility of the customer or the customer’s private plumbing contractor. Upon final inspection and approval, the customer submitted either the plumber’s invoice or the material and equipment receipts from customer self-installation. Since each installation was pre-approved, payment was typically issued within two weeks of submission to the sewer utility.
Participation Pays Dividends
The first 1,800 customers to be reimbursed under the terms of the program received a total of more than $4.4 million (an average of $2,412 per account). More important was the fact that the repairs further reduced the costly impacts of groundwater infiltration that strained wastewater plant operations during rainy periods.
The ultimate lesson to be learned from the LRWRA experience is that any utility or municipality can reduce nagging threats to wastewater system effectiveness and improve the cost-efficiency of operations with a combination of creative planning and good communication.
Image credit: "35479 Getting 'Er Done 2013_09_23," Bill McChesney, 2013, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/