News Briefs: Houston Residents Turn Away City Sewer Workers Due to COVID-19 Fears

Also in this week's sewer and water news, utilities nationwide continue to battle with clogs as the use of wipes — and their wrongful flushing — surges

Residents in Houston, Texas’ Eastwood neighborhood recently chained their fences and are refusing to allow city employees to access their properties due to concerns over COVID-19, according to Click 2 Houston.

“You do not have my permission to enter my property,” one resident had written on a sign posted on his fence, according to the news station. “We are currently under a shelter-in-place order. Go home.”

Meanwhile, a representative from Houston Public Works said in a statement the utility needs to address an urgent sewer repair in order to prevent “major health and safety” problems.

The statement reads as follows:

“Houston Public Works has a temporary bypass pump for wastewater currently in place at this location. The bypass was installed a little less than two weeks ago to bypass a line that is obstructing flow in the wastewater system that serves the neighborhood. When the bypass was installed, the repair was scheduled so we’d have the right crews and equipment on site.”

“This is an urgent repair because a temporary bypass on a wastewater line can quickly back up and cause major sanitary sewer overflows for everyone on the block, which would then be a major health and safety issue, not to mention forcing people from their homes and costly repairs. This project is not routine, but a necessary repair. While performing the repair, the pipe will also be upsized to an 8-inch pipe to support the wastewater needs of the neighborhood.”

Utilities Grapple With Wipes Problems During COVID-19 Outbreak

Nationwide, wastewater treatment plants and municipal sewer utilities continue to see problems related to flushable wipes clogs, as residents increase efforts to clean their homes with disinfecting wipes and look to alternatives during a toilet paper shortage.

From Indiana to Rhode Island to California and everywhere in between, wastewater utilities are experiencing major problems with consumers flushing wipes that have no business going down the drain.

Another recent example is Pennsylvania American Water, which is telling customers not to flush these wipes down the toilet. “Flushing or dumping the wrong things down the drain can cause problems in your local sewer system and cause blockages in your own home,” Jim Gable, senior manager of southeast operations for Pennsylvania American Water, tells customers. “Many sewer blockages occur between your house and our sewer main, where the property owner is responsible for correcting and paying for the repair. During this already stressful time, we want to help our customers avoid blockages that could create costly plumbing emergencies.”

EPA Urges Governors Nationwide to Label Water/Wastewater Works Essential

In other news, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler recently sent a letter to governors in all 50 states, territories and Washington, D.C. urging them to ensure that drinking water and wastewater employees are considered essential workers by state authorities when enacting restrictions such as shelter in place orders to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“Ensuring that all Americans have clean and safe water is a high priority for the agency and I want to thank the water sector for their courageous efforts at a time when workforces are being challenged and stretched,” says Wheeler. “Having fully operational drinking water and wastewater services is critical to containing COVID-19 and protecting Americans from other public health risks. Our nation's water and wastewater employees are everyday heroes who are on the frontline of protecting human health and the environment every single day.”


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