Streamlining Stormwater Inspection

Wichita Utility dramatically shortens system assessment timeline with new cameras.

Streamlining Stormwater Inspection

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When the city of Wichita’s Stormwater Utility Division was tasked with assessing its entire stormwater collections system in 2018, they estimated it would take more than 40 years. Their lone CCTV van set to work, but it was slow going.

Darrin Deutscher, general supervisor for the Stormwater Utility Division and a 33-year veteran worker for the city of Wichita, Kansas, wasn’t sure how to increase efficiency. It was clear, however, that the Stormwater Utility Division needed to consider other options.

He credits John “Red” Phillips, another supervisor in the division, with finding the answer. “Red started looking around. He reached out to Key Equipment, and Nate Miller turned him on to Quickview and brought one around for testing. The price point was right, and we got four of them for less than another CCTV system.”

The impact was immediate. “Honestly, we were surprised how much it instantly changed the way we go about business, for the good,” Deutscher says. “I didn’t expect it to give us all the things it gave us. I thought it would let us see things. But I didn’t expect they would let us set up a system showing which conduits are failing, and everything else.

“Now, instead of full CCTV inspections, we use these zoom cameras. You can see really well, almost 300 feet, and it looks like it’s driving down the line — it’s really cool.”

And that 40-year-or-greater inspection timeline? “With the four pole cameras,” Deutscher notes, “we can do the whole city in five years.”

Smarter workflows

For the first 50 years of operation, Wichita’s stormwater system was under the sewer utility, which took a hands-off approach to maintenance. Today, Deutscher, Phillips and their team of 19 work hard every day to maintain some 1,400 miles of storm conduit. “We’re pretty dang proud of what we do, and proud of the equipment.”

And adding Quickview airHD to the mix has transformed the stormwater division’s cleaning and maintenance operations. “Before, the crew would go out and televise every line in a mile section,” Deutscher says. “We’d just work our way across the city, to the center. And we’d get pulled off for emergency stuff, to look at a sinkhole in the street, etc. Now we can use Quickview to look down a line, and sometimes we bring the crawler, but most of the time we can get away without it.”

The simplicity of the technology was a surprise for Deutscher, who spent 17 years televising. “Pole cams in the past used to have a big vest that you put on, with cables and battery packs. And then you couldn’t see the video until the end of the day in the office. Now it’s on Wi-Fi. Our guys can actually see what they’re videoing, they can adjust the iris and the lighting to make it better. Also, just the zoom capability of this Quickview is out of this world. [Before finding it] we’d even thought about using a GoPro.”

In their first 10 months with the zoom cameras, and with three months off for snow, they’ve assessed 5,124 sections. The long-term plan is to inspect close to 1,000 per month, with three Quickviews running in the field at all times.

“We only use our CCTV equipment if we need to do a detailed video,” Deutscher explains. “Otherwise, I look [at the Quickview footage] every day and say which lines need cleaning, repair or inspection.”

Planning assistance

The Stormwater Utility Division manages an extensive inspection and rehab program to ensure the health and safety of the Wichita community, which is the largest city in Kansas.

“Lots of lines are deteriorated, and the corrugated pipes in particular are failing,” Deutscher says. “Many are 80 years old, or as old as the city of Wichita itself.

“We’re replacing as much as we can. I work with my engineer on the rehab program. Anything that’s fewer than 4 feet deep, my guys replace. Anything deeper, and we have contractors do it. But we try to do as much of it as possible in house. The division has a five-man crew dedicated to putting in pipe and repairing catch basins.”

Quickview not only helps them identify what’s going on, but it’s helping with planning as well. “You can see damage and any debris or offsets. With the faster turnaround we can also say ‘this pipe is failing at this rate,’ and we can get a better idea on budget.”

Reallocating resources

Quickview has also enabled the city to better utilize its available resources. “We have five cleaning crews,” Deutscher says. “Those trucks used to go out to a section of town and run every line, because you couldn’t tell if they were dirty or not. Now we do about a third of the cleaning — only the ones that need it.”

Not only can they allocate resources more efficiently, but the cleaning crews can also use the inspection footage to make smarter decisions about how they tackle dirty lines. Video collected with Quickview is transferred via Wi-Fi to WinCan Web, which syncs effortlessly with the city’s CentralSquare asset management system. That connection is all-important, says Deutscher. “The video is actually in the system. I can go into any asset that’s had it done, and anyone else can, too. [The crew] can look before they go in to clean to pick the right nozzle.”

Better decisions

Quickview is a versatile tool, and it’s also come in handy for projects that fall outside of routine workflows.

When Wichita first deployed the Quickviews, the Stormwater Utility Division was working on a Decision Support Tool to help prioritize system renewal and replacement decisions and inform long-term financial needs. The stormwater utility engineer needed data to determine the types and conditions of the pipes in the system. With Quickview in the mix, the team was quickly able to gather the information necessary for the DST.

And emergency callouts now have an easy answer. Spring downpours in the Midwest can create big problems when collections systems fail. “[The] week before last, we had a rainstorm, and a line was clogged up,” Deutscher says. “They worked for seven hours but couldn’t get through it. One of the guys took the pole cam downstream and saw a massive 30-foot root ball. We had to excavate. Without Quickview, we would have been guessing. This made it instantaneous.”

While the Stormwater Utility team thought it was buying a few pole cams to help alleviate the demand on their crawler operations, they got much more. With Quickview airHD, a four-decade or greater timeline was reduced to five years. And Deutscher and his division have been able to rethink the team’s processes for everything from routine cleaning and inspection to identifying root balls. Having the right tools for the job means everyone can focus on what they do best and do it even better.

The problems the city faces — aging infrastructure, wasted resources due to limited insight underground, emergency callouts that disrupt routine maintenance — are not unique to Wichita, or to the region. Quickview offers a convenient, cost-effective solution to increase efficiencies and boost productivity across the board. Deutscher and Phillips have both seen the benefits this solution can bring to municipalities of all shapes and sizes.

“I would recommend it to any community, including ones that can’t afford a CCTV system, because this can take care of 95% of what any city needs to look at,” Deutscher says. “And then there’s always contractors that can come in and televise that 5% you really need to look at. Everybody could use at least one of these, large cities could use multiple.” 


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