Keep Your Feet Dry

Don’t let a trickle of trouble turn into a flood you can’t control

My sister has a book filled with little bits of funny life advice from my mom. The other day she sent me a photo of a page that said, “Occasionally the sewer water will lap at your heels, but never let it cover your feet.” 

There’s a metaphor in there for sure, but it’s also a joke in reference to the problematic sewer lateral at the antique shop she owned. It was a big Victorian house on a corner that was operating as a rooming house when she bought it and turned the main floor into her shop. She eventually lived upstairs. The building was old, and that lateral line had seen better days. Roots were a problem, and on occasion the line would back up into the basement. It was rarely a big deal if someone noticed it early on, thanks to the slope of the floor, but if it went unnoticed for a while it presented problems. 

I had my share of experiences in that basement, and unfortunately the water topped my feet a time or two, so I saw the humor in the advice and fully understand the wisdom.  

In your line of work, I think the advice holds up. Your collections systems will inevitably have maintenance and repair needs. There will be roots, clogs, cracks and other problems. If you’re out in front of it, the water may lap at your heels, but it won’t cover your feet. But if your utility is in reactionary mode, maintenance needs can turn into emergency calls, and then your boots better be waterproof.  

The Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority doesn’t deal with wastewater, but it’s clearly looking well into the future with an ambitious 130-mile pipe replacement project. The utility, featured in this issue of Municipal Sewer & Water, is responsible for water distribution throughout the Florida Keys.  

The decades-long modernization of the pipeline involves replacing a 30-inch ductile iron pipeline with a cathodically protected 36-inch steel line. While the existing pipe’s 50-year life expectancy is nearing its end, replacement won’t happen overnight. In fact, incremental steps will begin this spring and continue for two or three decades before the makeover of the waterline is complete. The tab for the first 4-mile increment is $42 million, but the full project could cost a billion dollars.  

The Florida Keys project is filled with challenges, but your jobs always are. The important thing here is that the utility is taking a big picture approach, tackling these challenges and restoring its system incrementally, methodically, before it’s forced into the type of emergency repair cycle that can make it impossible to ever get ahead or take on a project of this magnitude. 

Regardless of whether you deal with water, wastewater or stormwater, there are good lessons to be learned from this project and approach. You have to focus on the problems of today, but if your vision doesn’t extend any farther you’re headed for bigger problems. 

Here’s hoping you can keep your feet dry. 

Enjoy this month’s issue.


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