Make Your Systems Sing

Utilities have a harmony and flow all their own, and a good operator is very much in tune.

Interested in Infrastructure?

Get Infrastructure articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Infrastructure + Get Alerts

Sometimes things that don’t seem at all connected really are. I was talking to a friend and coworker this morning about music. It’s fascinating how a song, a melodic combination of musical tones and expressions, can stir such passion — how a simple song can have such an impact.

You might not associate music with your profession. A good chord progression doesn’t have much to do with wastewater collections in most people’s eyes, but they’re not all that different. A well maintained system has a harmony and flow all its own, and a good operator is very much in tune. Your jobs impact everyone in your communities.

It’s very appropriate my friend and I were having this conversation about a band that came out of Seattle in the early 1990s. That’s where music and the water/wastewater industry came together for me. Seattle Public Utilities is featured in this month’s issue of MSW.

Officials in the Emerald City had to confront a serious issue with combined and sanitary sewer overflows. Utility leaders were in tune with their system, and they knew stormwater control was playing an even bigger role in local water quality issues than the overflows. So they listened to what the system was telling them and they worked with the EPA to be able to address stormwater issues ahead of some of their planned CSO projects.

The effect of stormwater runoff on Seattle’s water environment can be 100 times greater than the effect of the relatively small volumes of CSOs entering the same water body. The city is only three years into a 15-year plan to address their issues, but their approach is allowing them to not only identify the problems, but evaluate and understand the underlying causes and treat them appropriately.

The people at the Peachtree City Water and Sewer Authority in Peachtree City, Ga., are also in tune with their collections system. The utility is in the second phase of a complete evaluation of its entire collections system. They’re getting to know every inch of their system so they can operate and maintain it at an optimum level.

The PCWSA has also taken an aggressive stand against FOG. Their program is so complete it even includes hair and pet grooming salons, because the products those businesses use contain a high oil content and are an often-overlooked source of blockages. The program is so thorough and effective it has earned the utility an Award of Excellence from the Georgia F.O.G. Alliance.

Up in Coon Rapids, Minn., Rick Bednar’s crew is out cleaning every day, and they know their collections system so well they don’t really have to worry about regular pipe inspections. The utility is lining 40,000 feet of sewer line annually, and I&I has been virtually eliminated.

When Bednar took his position as operations supervisor nine years ago, Coon Rapids suffered multiple sewer backups per week. Last year there were only six total, and those were all a result of root balls being flushed into the mainlines from laterals. To say the crew is in tune with the system is an understatement.

All of these utilities are doing great work. They are great examples of how the right approach can keep a system singing. I hope their stories provide some insight on how to approach your own challenges.

Enjoy this month’s issue.

Comments on this column or about any article in this publication may be directed to editor Luke Laggis, 800/257-7222;


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.