Offering a Sump Pump Amnesty Program Can Open Doors for Inspections

Your utility can benefit from offering forgiveness to residents with improper sump pump connections.

Offering a Sump Pump Amnesty Program Can Open Doors for Inspections

The tact a utility takes to find and fix improper sump pump connections varies from community to community, but offering amnesty is one good way to open doors.

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Utilities face myriad, complex challenges when it comes to identifying and eliminating inflow and infiltration issues, and the simplest sounding — but most formidable — of those is gaining access to private properties to address improper sump pump discharges.

Just how big of a problem are improper sump pump hookups? Engineering firm CDM Smith has found across numerous I&I mitigation programs that private properties contribute an estimated 50% to 70% of total I&I for any given municipality. Of that, private sump pumps connected to municipal sewer systems are thought to be the largest contributor.

The success of any private inflow reduction program is directly related to the success of entering private homes and performing inspections.

It sounds simple enough. Get homeowners on board with the program and politely ask them to discharge elsewhere. After all, it makes perfect sense once a taxpayer understands the undue burden sump pumps place on municipal sewer systems and that they’re the ones who will eventually have to fund a treatment plant that can handle the unnecessary flow.

But getting that message out in a way that grabs everyone’s attention isn’t easy, and many homeowners are afraid of getting in trouble or afraid of the money they’ll have to spend to find an alternate solution for their flooded basements. That’s where amnesty programs can help.

Fighting the flow

The Stonington (Connecticut) Water Pollution Control Authority recently initiated such a program after the Mystic Wastewater Treatment Plant (which serves Stonington) exceeded design flows numerous times over an 18-month period. That resulted in the authority instituting a moratorium on all new connections to the facility, according to Doug Nettleton, Water Pollution Control Authority director.

“In order to lift that moratorium, we’re doing the amnesty program, conducting an I&I study and reactivating a pipeline from the Mystic plant to our other facility in the Stonington borough,” he says. The authority has three treatment facilities in Stonington along with 16 pumping stations, all operated by SUEZ North America.

In an effort to reduce the burden on the Mystic plant — which operates near and sometimes beyond its 800,000 mgd treatment capacity — Nettleton came up with the idea to offer amnesty to homeowners who allow sump pump inspections. He wants to get a handle on how many improper connections are out there.

“We sent out 1,400 letters and received 280 replies, and we found out about 30% of those were connected to the sewer system,” Nettleton says. “We were trying to build a spreadsheet and do some data collecting on how many are connected to the sewers. We would have liked more responses, but a program like this is a good start. I think the majority of people want to do the right thing, but the ones who know they’re doing something wrong — you’re not as likely to hear from those people.”

While some municipalities might consider a rate surcharge for homeowners who have sump pumps connected to city sewers, the authority would much rather reduce the inflow than increase revenue, and that’s the case a lot of the time, according to Nettleton.

“I&I — and inflow especially — is a huge issue for almost every community, and it’s a delicate issue,” he says. “People are scared because when it rains, their basements are flooding. And a lot of them just aren’t aware they’re doing anything wrong by connecting to the sewer.”

Program strategies

The method behind a potential amnesty program in your own municipality is largely dependent on the needs of the utility and the culture of your community. As Nettleton says, it can be a delicate issue.

In Stonington, the authority mailed a thoughtfully worded letter. In another recent example from Caln Township (Pennsylvania) Municipal Authority, the utility posted a notice online to its customers, reminding them of upcoming I&I testing via dye, flowmeters and camera inspection and offering amnesty to customers who address improper sump pumps, floor drains and downspouts ahead of time. “While these options are viable, initially the authority does not want to impose on all of our residents in order to identify the violators. ... During the amnesty period, the authority will assist residents in indemnifying and correcting these illegal connections, without penalty,” reads the notice.

Meanwhile, in Revere, Massachusetts — the city that inspired the CDM Smith study — a sump pump amnesty program gave residents a deadline by which they could notify city officials about improper sump pump connections or request inspections. In exchange, the city offered to redirect discharges at no cost to the homeowner. But once the program expired, homeowners were financially responsible for their own solutions.

The town of Burlington, Massachusetts, offers a perpetual pardon to anyone who applies for its sump pump amnesty program, waiving any potential penalties until the homeowner can eventually arrange to have the connection removed.

Whatever route a utility takes to find and fix improper sump pump connections, the challenge remains finding a tactful way to get a foot in the door to address inflow. Sump pump amnesty programs are one way you can ask people to let you in.


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