In-House Crew Tackles Sewer Improvement

Michigan utility is tackling some big jobs — including a 19th-century brick arch sewer rehabilitation — without burdening ratepayers.
In-House Crew Tackles Sewer Improvement
City of Adrian Utilities Director Will Sadler stands in front of phase 2 of the Brick Arch Sewer Improvement Project, a multimillion-dollar program designed to reinforce, reline and replace brick arch sewers dating back to the 1870s. (Photography by Amy Voigt)

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Adrian, Michigan, is a city of a little more than 20,000 with a can-do attitude. Its Utilities Department continues to take on the city’s toughest infrastructure challenges — including the $3 million rehabilitation and replacement of its 19th-century brick arch sewer — while holding the line on utility rate increases.

Adrian is located 70 miles southwest of Detroit. Its Utilities Department is responsible for both water and wastewater services. Customers are supplied with a blend of surface water from Lake Adrian and groundwater from four wells. The city operates a 10 mgd water treatment plant, which primarily serves city residents, and a wastewater treatment plant, which also serves adjoining Madison and Adrian Charter townships.

While the wastewater treatment plant is rated at 7 mgd, extreme wet-weather flows can send as much as 20 mgd into the system. The city operates the 2-million-gallon above-ground Winter Street retention basin as an insurance policy, but a unique solution provides extra value for ratepayers.

Eliminating bottlenecks

“We eliminated hydraulic bottlenecks through more efficient piping and created a parallel treatment system,” says Will Sadler, director of the Adrian Utilities Department. “Even though our National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit is rated for 7 mgd, we can now handle as many as 21 mgd for a short period of time. The parallel system also allows us to run a treatment loop in series in case anything toxic gets into the treatment stream.”

The water distribution system measures 98 miles in length with pipe diameters ranging from 2 up to 24 inches for the largest transmission mains.

“We cleared out the last short segments of wooden water mains 20 years ago,” Sadler says. “Our oldest water pipe, pre-World War II vintage, is sand-cast iron. Some of our replacement pipe is PVC, but our material of preference is ductile iron.”

A seven-member operations and maintenance team fixes main breaks, repairs water leaks, and taps water mains for new developments. The team is outfitted with Pollard Geophones to narrow down the sources of leaks.

“We see a lot of repairs in the winter — usually ring breaks caused by the freeze-thaw cycle,” says Sadler. “Our crews are all hardworking, and even after a couple of bad winters where the temperature dropped to less than 10 below zero I never heard them complain. This spring our team also clamped some pipes with holes as big as softballs caused by a combination of corrosion and pressure fluctuations.”

Service leaks also keep crews busy with as many as a dozen leaks recently reported in a two-week period. Crews typically pull in new copper line using a HammerHead Mole.

Condition and capacity

“We target replacement of water mains based on ongoing assessment,” says Sadler. “We cooperate with our public works department to make sure we take advantage of any street work. However, our current priorities are pipes that are leaking, reaching the end of their service life and undersized. We try to get in at least a 6- to 8-inch pipe to replace smaller-diameter mains.”

While most water main construction is contracted out, utility staff is motivated to perform the work where possible. Last fall theoperations and maintenance crew successfully installed approximately 1,300 feet of 8-inch-diameter pipe to replace an aging 6-inch water main.

The sewer system runs 85 miles long in diameters ranging from 6 to 60 inches. Materials range from older vitrified clay to newer concrete and SDR35 PVC — the city’s preferred pipe for replacement and new construction.

In 2014 the city received a Stormwater, Asset Management and Wastewater (SAW) program grant worth about $930,000 from the State of Michigan.

“This was primarily used on the sanitary side,” Sadler says. “We contracted Tetra Tech of Ann Arbor to advance our GIS mapping program using ArcGIS (Esri), while performing a number of other functions including inspection and inventory of manholes, cleaning and televising the system, and creating an asset management plan for the wastewater treatment plant.”

In-house crews televise and clean the system using the city’s Vactor sewer cleaner, Vactor jetter and RapidView IBAK CCTV camera. In the past, the entire sanitary system was cleaned in a three-year cycle. Now, with the additional task of televising, it takes about five years to complete the entire system.

“We used to jet and vac and then send in the camera to inspect the work,” Sadler says. “When we had an outside crew come in to do CIPP work, we took a page out of their book when we saw them jetting and doing camera work simultaneously. Adopting that method will really make us more efficient.”

Bring on the brick arch

The utility’s current signature project is the $3 million Downtown Brick Arch Sewer Improvement Project. In planning since 2010, the three-phase program is designed to rehabilitate and replace sections of the nearly 150-year-old brick-lined combined sewer. The deteriorating sewer serves much of the downtown area, and the project will assist the city in meeting an NPDES mandate to eliminate combined sewer outfall to the Raisin River at its Winter Street retention basin. Making the project more challenging, the sewer runs through easements between houses, under buildings, through parking lots and under other narrow rights of way.

“The brick arch sewers were built with great craftsmanship, but it really is only a single layer of brick and over the years the mortar has deteriorated,” says Sadler.

“Under heavy traffic loads, the circular tunnel has collapsed in some places to the point that it has become heart shaped. But the project is also about reconfiguring the system, redirecting stormwater and disconnecting catch basins and roof drains that run straight into it.”

The Utilities Department scheduled the entire project to run for three summers beginning in 2014, with all funding derived entirely from the existing wastewater capital project fund.

The first phase of construction in summer 2014 included replacement of 1,500 linear feet of 32- by 42-inch brick arch sewers. Existing sewers were removed and replaced with 12-inch PVC sanitary sewer with existing laterals reintegrated into the new pipe. A new separated storm sewer was connected to a new stormwater outfall at Raisin River. An additional 600 linear feet of brick arch sewers 30 to 36 inches in diameter were rehabilitated with CIPP technology from Layne Inliner.

“This is a structural liner, so the brick arch structure has been strengthened and lined for an estimated additional life of 100 years,” Sadler says. “We also replaced deteriorated manhole structures in this phase.”

The second phase of construction for summer and fall 2015 included open-cut replacement of two city blocks of brick arch sewers.

“Phase 3 is in the design phase and involves the brick arch sewers running under historic buildings,” says Sadler. “This is where we’ve become more concerned about the arches. We’re not only rehabilitating here but also making sure that the sewers are given the strength to continue to support the structures above them. This phase will include the final separation of storm and sanitary systems and likely more CIPP lining or the use of cementitious trowel-on liner.”

More big projects

The Adrian Utilities Department completed another big project in fall 2014. This project, with a price tag of nearly $400,000, consisted of replacing two large 1940s-era floodgates designed to control water levels on Lake Adrian as well as additional rehabilitation work on the dam itself, including concrete work and updated electrical.

Future plans include investigating options to replace the lime-softening technology used at the city’s water treatment plant. Estimated cost savings for elimination of lime and the disposal of lime sludge: $300,000 per year.

With all of the work undertaken, Sadler notes that respect for utility customers is paramount.

“We’re doing what had to be done and what needs to be done,” he says. “Even with all we’re achieving with our current projects, we haven’t borrowed funds or increased our user rates in the past two years. We believe that’s value for money.”

Adrian Fix It Empowers Customers

The Utilities Department of the City of Adrian, Michigan, is asking for it. Asking citizens to report any problems relating to utilities, that is. And the department is making it easier with Adrian Fix It, a free mobile app for iOS and Android that allows anyone to call in a work report.

The app is powered by SeeClickFix, a customizable software package that allows citizens to report nonemergency neighborhood issues. Adrian Fix It covers a broad range of issues, from overgrown tree branches to potholes, litter, flooding and malfunctioning traffic signals. However, the Utilities Department receives its share of repair requests.

“Anyone with a smartphone can report a problem by snapping a picture of the problem, adding an address or dragging a map icon to the location of the issue and sending it with a short description of what they’re seeing to City Hall,” says Will Sadler, director of the Adrian Utilities Department. “Through the magic of computers, the repair request — for example, a leaking hydrant — gets routed to the person responsible for it. That person then acknowledges the request has been received and updates the request file once the problem has been resolved.”

Sadler says he likes the speed and efficiency of the system but notes that for some citizens it may inspire unrealistic expectations.

“Just because you send your request instantaneously, doesn’t mean we can fix it instantaneously,” he says. “We can’t fix everything overnight, but we’ll get to it as soon as we reasonably can.”


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