Press-Republican

October 28, 2013

Wipes wipe out sewer pumps in Chazy

By SUZANNE MOORE, News Editor
Press-Republican

---- — CHAZY — Pursuit of cleanliness is getting very costly for Town of Chazy wastewater customers.

Yes, the pre-moistened wipes that people are using to supplement toilet paper are called “flushable” on packaging, Chazy Superintendent of Water and Wastewater Systems David Siskavich says. 

“But just because it goes down the toilet in your house doesn’t mean it’s a good product for the municipal system.”

COSTLY REPAIRS

Pumps that easily lasted 2,000 or even 3,000 hours in the past now burn out in 50, 60 hours or so, Siskavich said.

To rebuild the motor on one pump, he said, costs a minimum of $1,200. If the whole unit needs replacement, a new one is priced at between $3,000 and $4,000.

And in the past year, the town has sent out a dozen or more for rebuilding.

At least the moving parts of the pumps can be replaced in-house, but that’s only a small benefit, Siskavich says, as those blades and other parts cost about $1,000 per pump.

“My sewer budget is really taking a hit,” he said. 

EVADE SCREENS

For 2014, Chazy has budgeted about $12,000 more for wastewater repair, a jump of about 16 percent over 2013, secretary to the supervisor Susan Patnode said.

All because of those flimsy scraps of ...

“I don’t know what they’re made of,” Siskavich said, “but they constantly clog the pumps.”

The wastewater system that serves the hamlet of Chazy has a dozen lift stations, where pumps push raw sewage up toward the main plant on North Farm Road.

Each station has two pumps — that’s for redundancy, Siskavich says — that sit in what might be described as a big kettle. 

Before the pipe carries the sewage in, three catch basins screen most larger items caught in the flow — women’s hygiene products, toothbrushes, toys ...

“The screens actually catch 90 percent of the wipes,” Siskavich said. “The 10 percent that get through are the ones causing the damage.”

VICIOUS CYCLE

Imagine two big sump pumps in a hole, he said, “with a little more electronics involved.

“It’s all controlled by flow; the pumps alternate on a cycle.”

Sewage flows in, and a pump starts grinding. The watery stuff continues on, and when the hole fills again, the other pump gets to work.

“If one is overheating, there are safeguards in place to shut it off,” Siskavich said. 

The second pump starts up, and by the time it’s the first pump’s turn again, it has cooled off enough to kick on again.

With wipes entangled in the grinder, that scenario repeats itself, Siskavich said, “like turning a light switch on and off 1,000 more times than you need to.”

So the electric starter in the control panel or some other vital part burns out, and an audible alarm and flashing light at the station announce the crisis.

“The people that live around the pump stations, believe me, they know our numbers” to report the problem, Siskavich said.

SHORTED OUT

And when a pump goes, someone has to respond, Siskavich said.

He filled in for Maintenance Supervisor David Loope one recent weekend.

“I was called to one pump station twice in one hour for one pump,” he said. 

Siskavich wasn’t surprised to find the culprit was wipes.

“Stuff shorted out in the control panel — there’s such a power load when the pump starts chewing them up.”

Siskavich doesn’t know what changes could be made to fix the issue.

“The pumps just aren’t designed to grind up hygiene products,” he said.

Chazy’s system, about 12 years old, is rather unique, for it has many more lift stations than most its size.

And so many more opportunities for those wipes to wipe out pumps.

CUSTOMER HELP

The pricey problem, Siskavich said, is getting worse.

A few years ago, the town decided to be proactive, posting fliers on the doors of every sewer customer, asking them to avoid flushing those wipes, regardless of the wording on the packaging.

“But there’s 100 percent more than two years ago,” he said.

Since Jan. 1, after-hours calls for pumps sabotaged by wipes have numbered about 16; Siskavich can’t even guess how many alarms go off during the regular work week.

“This is costing the taxpayers overtime,” he noted. “And if it continues on this pace, even with the new budget coming in, the money won’t last long.

Only those in the wastewater district pitch in for system repairs, Siskavich noted, so the burden is shared among the 197 or so users, not all town taxpayers.

“If (users) insist on flushing these things, they are going to have to pay for it.”

Email Suzanne Moore:smoore@pressrepublican.com

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TO FLUSH OR NOT TO FLUSH 

Consumer Reports tested three brands of "flushable cleansing cloths" to see if they really do break down as advertised. 

See the video at http://tinyurl.com/y8nuar9. Bag and toss wipes with the trash, the resulting recommendation said. Don't flush them.