Out of the Comfort Zone

Dye testing and inspection, combined with recordkeeping on a new Web-based application, helps an Ohio city get a firm handle on inflow and infiltration

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The small community of Bay Village, Ohio, was doing everything it should in sewer maintenance: mainline inspection, regular cleaning, root control and data tracking.


But then a 50-year storm in 1994 pushed the city to look beyond obvious culprits to pinpoint and reduce sources of the inflow and infiltration that were creating basement backups. By using cost-effective dye testing, lateral inspection and Web-based software, and by stretching beyond its basic responsibilities, Bay Village developed a program that significantly reduced I&I, increased customer satisfaction and improved system function from private laterals all the way to the treatment plant.


Pivotal event

In spring of 1994 a major storm in this city of 17,000 led to some 600 calls about flooded basements. “From all the information we could gather, the city engineer and management team concluded that the I&I was not coming from the city’s mainlines but from the private property side,” says Matthew Nocella, Class I laborer for the Service Department of Bay Village, on Lake Erie about 15 miles west of Cleveland. “So we needed to do something different from our typical maintenance tasks to remedy the issue.”


The staff began a comprehensive dye testing program, testing both mains and private laterals. The first four years of testing confirmed that most of the I&I was coming from private property, mainly from downspouts that were being routed directly to the sanitary sewers.


In some neighborhoods, as many as 90 percent of homes had improper connections. “When you do the calculation of water from just one street of 60 homes, that equates to a lot of water that has a treatment cost attached to it that the city was absorbing,” says Nocella. “Dye testing showed us how we could solve two big issues in one step.”


The dye testing has helped Bay Village reduce 35 percent of the I&I it aimed to remove. Improper connections were only one culprit: Next in line for investigation were leaky pipes. Using several SeeSnake portable push cameras from RIDGID and a mainline lateral-launch camera from CUES Inc., the city looked for I&I sources in both mainlines and laterals.


When a homeowner experiences a backup, or when a blockage is reported, the inspection crew investigates on the private property side first, using a pushrod camera. If the inspection is not conclusive, the crew deploys the lateral-launch unit to inspect from the public side. Between the two approaches, the team typically pinpoints the leak location within six inches.


“When problems are identified in a private property owner’s line, the city cannot recommend how the issue should be repaired or remedied,” says Nocella. “However, we do offer the resident detailed information about the line, what we found, and what the problem is, so that they can make a sound decision based on the facts when dealing with a contractor.”


Further reductions

Bay Village has routinely used CIPP lining systems from Insituform Technologies Inc. and Inliner Technologies LLC in its capital improvement program for the past decade. Lining has further reduced infiltration in known problem areas. After lining, inspection and dye test crews return to key neighborhoods to confirm that the primary sources of infiltration and blockages have been eliminated.


If infiltration is still present, or if blockages are being reported more frequently than normal, the city begins looking for leaks on the private property side. Several years ago, during a rainstorm, a surge of calls came in from one street. Crews began opening manholes to find extremely high water levels. Later investigation revealed a complex problem.


Deploying its lateral-launch camera, the inspection team surveyed every lateral on the street, locating every tee connection and documenting all problems. “We found major root intrusions and broken pipes, as well as a large obstruction of grease buildup in our mainline,” Nocella says. “We never would have discovered those problems without that lateral-launch camera, because we couldn’t have entered every property on that project.


“For me, it was a very satisfying project. Residents had been mad as all get-out that their basements were full of water, in some cases about an inch, and in some cases half a foot. We were able to give them detailed answers beyond, ‘Our main is blocked,’ and tell them how we were working to resolve the issue, or what they needed to do on their end.”


Tracking it all

As Bay Village reduced I&I, the investigative work and maintenance produced a great deal of data that had been kept on paper. Nocella and his staff saw a need for electronic backup.


The city decided it could not afford a full-blown asset management, GIS or data collection/storage system and server. Instead, the city agreed to serve as a beta test site for a new Web-based application being introduced by RIDGID.


The city provided RIDGID-Connect for the inspection teams to use as a basic recordkeeping tool. The system is a secure, subscription-based online service that lets users manage pictures, inspection videos, customer lists and job information; prepare and send job reports; and essentially organize and conduct all business functions in a single online location.


As Nocella and the crews began to work with the system, they saw that it could be “stretched” and used in many more ways than originally intended. Now, when a crew performs an inspection on a private property, the footage is loaded into the RIDGIDConnect system under the customer’s address. The city is also loading the system with information from its paper records on customer properties to create an electronic library available for residents and city staff to review as needed.


The system will eventually house all the city’s records about its wastewater infrastructure — mainline inspection surveys, dye testing reports, maintenance histories and more — in a database that can be searched by address or geographic position.


Nocella also sees the system as an excellent training tool and as a way to capture the knowledge of its senior staff who have deep insights on the sewer system, its quirks, and its special needs. “All the intellectual property of those staff members needs to be captured before they retire and are no longer available to pass it on to the next generation responsible for the health of the system,” says Nocella. “A data system that is so simple to use can help us insure that we never lose all that we have learned.”


Connecting with customers

The online service has the added benefit of enhancing communication with customers.


When an issue occurs, property owners no longer need to be present when city crews inspect their lines. RIDGIDConnect lets city staff members prepare a findings report and post the information to a secure Web address, where customers can review it at their convenience by logging on with a user ID and password.


“We no longer have to ask a customer, ‘What time can you take off from work to meet me so you can see what we’re viewing on our inspection camera?’” says Nocella. “We now can give them a history of their property, its service calls, video footage and reports remotely, clearly, concisely and quickly.”


The system also lets the customer post questions or remarks on the video file or report and receive replies from the city. All the information becomes part of the property’s history file.


One of the first residents to have a call and inspection documented on the system had a recurrence of a backup about a year after the initial call. Looking at her record, Nocella saw that the first backup had been caused by root intrusion.


“Sure enough, when we inspected, we saw that the root had grown back,” Nocella says. “If we didn’t have this tool, the crews would have spent a lot more time eliminating potential causes of the backup. With this history, we looked for a root re-growth first and solved the problem faster and more cost effectively for everyone involved.”


Simple can be best

Nocella concludes, “Sometimes the best solutions and tools aren’t necessarily the most expensive or complex. Keep it simple and don’t be hesitant about looking outside the comfort zone of your own areas of responsibility for the answers.”


As Bay Village has learned, just starting somewhere and continuing to look beyond pays off. Working with residents and helping them understand their role in the overall health of the underground infrastructure is one sure way to fast-track solutions to common problems and achieve common goals.


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