Wastewater Utility Thrives on Innovation and Independence

Regional Sanitary District takes on challenges and more responsibility with custom tools and out-of-the-box thinking.
Wastewater Utility Thrives on Innovation and Independence
The Rogue Valley Sewer Services team includes (from left) maintenance worker Brent Jones, video inspection crew lead Kevan Kerby, maintenance worker Matt Pierce, flusher crew lead Tim Hammond, and Operations Manager Shane Macuk.

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Rogue Valley Sewer Services of Central Point, Oregon, has been able to steadily take on more responsibility and some unusual projects with innovative, out-of-the-box thinking, in-house specialty tool development and adopting an attitude of “go for it.” All of this has led to exceeding preventive maintenance goals, keeping rates at some of the lowest in their state and creating amazing return on investment for their equipment purchases.

Starting small

Like most regional sewer authorities or districts, Rogue Valley Sewer Services is responsible for meeting the needs of several towns, including Shady Cove, Eagle Point, White City, Southwest Medford, Jacksonville, Phoenix, North Ashland, the unincorporated areas of Jackson County and other cities within Oregon’s Rogue River Valley region.

They serve a population of approximately 74,000 and maintain a highly diverse wastewater collections system composed of VCP, concrete, PVC and even Orangeburg ranging from 2-inch pressure pipe up to 60-inch-diameter sanitary and storm sewer lines, some dating back to the early 1900s. They are also under contract to operate and manage the Shady Cove Wastewater Treatment Plant, which handles an average of 400,000 gpd.

Established in August 1966, Rogue Valley was originally known as Bear Creek Valley Sanitary Authority, and in its early days each of the cities in the area were responsible for their own collections system, but over time these cities approached the district re-questing them to take over the responsibility of the sanitary systems in their jurisdiction. Rogue Valley did this starting out on a five-year contract, with the understanding that at the end of the time period, an annex station would be built and the district would assume ownership and full responsibility. Today, it cares for 400 miles of sanitary sewer, 100 miles of storm pipe, 8,000 manholes, 3,300 catch basins, 29 lift stations and a two-cell wastewater lagoon.

Ever-increasing responsibility

With more responsibility and a growing list of assets to protect and maintain, Shane Macuk, operations manager for Rogue Valley Sewer Services, knows that effective management requires good long-range planning, high expectations and a strategic plan of action.

The district’s CCTV inspection and cleaning crews work in tandem with the goal of making their way through the entire system every five years. Recent equipment acquisitions as well as specialized tools developed in-house are now allowing them to achieve this every three to four years.

There are two CCTV crews, each operating a rig outfitted with an R.S. Technical Services TranStar Steerable Tractor with a TrakSTAR mainline pan-and-tilt camera. The trucks are also equipped with an RST storm drain tractor for larger-diameter inspection and a lateral launch system, which is utilized primarily to help local contractors pinpoint locations and determine exact causes of system issues for property owners.

The crews prefer to inspect the lines prior to cleaning in order to see the true health of the pipe. This is especially helpful in areas where there is heavy root intrusion. Rogue Valley follows up with thorough cleaning and flushing, and roots are removed with high-pressure jetting nozzles and flails.

Inspection findings are recorded and analyzed using PipeTech Software incorporating NASSCO PACP coding standards. That information is then tied into the district’s Esri ArcView GIS system. A modeling application by Innovyze is also part of the mix, helping Macuk and his team comprehensively analyze their system.

“With all of the data we collect, we know where the deficiencies are in our system, especially capacity issues. Having this data helps us stay ahead of the game,” Macuk says. “We know we’ll be ready for any new subdivision, commercial business or any other development that would impact capacity and we won’t have to say no because we will be prepared. This kind of information also helps us plan most effectively for our immediate and long-range capital improvement programs.”

Do it yourself

Smaller projects within the district’s capital improvement program are kept in-house, but anything with a financial value over $50,000 is typically contracted out. On occasion, there have been critical projects and no interested parties to do the work, creating an opportunity for Rogue Valley’s team to dig deep and find a way to take care of it in-house.

One such project called for the installation of a new line running through a wetland area with vernal pools. Common in the Rogue Valley area, these natural depressions collect water in spring, creating critical fragile ecosystems that are protected by law. Any construction or development requires specific guidelines and permit adherence.

The district needed to eliminate a pump station and install a 2,000-foot section of 12-inch PVC to connect with an interceptor manhole that would have to traverse directly through these vernal pools. They were issued only the second permit of its kind in the United States to perform this type of work. The conditions of the permit called for the restoration of the original vernal pools and to actually increase the size area of the pool to a larger scale than when they began. To accomplish this, the district had to import clay soil, save the original first foot of vernal pool and upland material excavated as well as collect 40 pounds of seed from the native plants in the pool area.

As the new pipe was being laid, they had to build clay check dams around it in order to mitigate any groundwater seepage and follow a specific trench line. The crew would dig down and lay the new pipe, and replace the excavated dirt up to about a 5-foot level with a layer of the imported clay soil. The clay soil had to be rolled in, compacted and tested to ensure it had 100 percent compaction before the balance of the site could be backfilled with either upland soil or the original vernal pool soil. This special restoration of the ground was required because there were concerns that once the pipe was laid, water would seep out into the natural trench line and drain the vernal pools.

An independent environmentalist inspected and oversaw the project, making sure that things were being constructed to the terms of the permit. At the conclusion, she told the project crew that it was the best vernal pool restoration she had seen to date.

In-house innovation

Rogue Valley approaches equipment and technology with the same sense of independence as challenging projects like the vernal pool restoration. Macuk and video inspection crew lead Kevan Kerby share a common mindset: If you can’t find what you need, build it, and even better if you can repurpose something. So when Macuk needed to replace his CCTV pipeline inspection equipment, he found a way to get two complete and fully compatible systems versus just one by retrofitting an existing inspection rig with relatively low mileage.

Their existing inspection camera systems had been problematic and servicing them had become somewhat challenging for the crew. “It was critical for us to have a different customer service experience with this new purchase and equipment,” Macuk says. “We made it very clear to every vendor we looked at that we wanted to have a collaborative relationship. To be able to openly share pros and cons, ideas and innovations, tweaks for how their equipment could be made to better meet our applications and also for the industry in general, and to know that they’d actually listen and if it made sense, act upon it.”

This straightforward approach and communication has fostered dynamic working relationships with two leading industry manufacturers, Vactor and R.S. Technical Services.

“Now when our reps from these companies come to visit, they ask to see what we’ve been innovating and coming up with in our shop before showing us what’s happening on their side,” Macuk says. “They are excited to share the type of ideas that we’re developing in the real world and taking it back to their companies to help improve the next generation of products coming down the line. It’s great and we really appreciate being able to have this type of relationship with our vendors.”

Kerby has also developed some tools of his own in the district’s shop. One such tool immediately began saving Rogue Valley thousands of dollars. Mounted under the RST TrakSTAR mainline camera, Kerby devised a robotic device to cut out intruding services in the main. Before the creation of the tool, the average cost to have the district’s construction crew deployed to dig out an intruding lateral and repair it averaged $3,200. The cutting unit cost approximately $15,000 in parts and labor to assemble, and to date has been used to remove over 30 lateral intrusions. Some of the tools Kerby has built have been so effective and efficient that other cities have asked if he could build one for them. For Rogue Valley, it’s all about improving the industry, so they were willing to share their knowledge and expertise by building and selling some specialized tools they’ve created.

Macuk and Kerby credit their district manager and board of directors for the big role they’ve played in making the district’s accomplishments possible. “Management is very open,” Macuk says. “They give us the thumbs up to try new things. I can walk into my manager’s office and say ‘Hey, we have this crazy idea that we’d like to try, what do you say?’ and he’s always supportive of us because he has the confidence that we’ve never steered him wrong. That type of support is priceless.”

Supportive management, engaged vendors and a team that is always finding better ways to do its job has enabled Rogue Valley to thrive. “Don’t tell us we can’t do something; we’ll prove you wrong,” Macuk says. “We know if we keep thinking like Rosie the Riveter and holding on to that ‘we can do it’ attitude, nothing is outside the scope of reality.”


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