City smokes up sewers and storms

If your toilet was bubbling and spitting with black smoke this week, don’t blame your uncle’s famous chili recipe. The City of Rockford has been conducting tests of the sewer lines to find leaks and unauthorized connections.

Department of Public Works staff put artificial smoke devices down City sewer connections to see what results would drift up.

At The Squire newspaper, the toilets burbled and smoke spewed from an exhaust pipe out of the top of the building. That was all right, DPW said. At the Michigan State Police, smoke leaked from under the roof line. Not so good.

SMOKIN’—Rockford Department of Public Works found plenty of places to plug in the City sewer lines after testing the pipes with artificial smoke. It didn’t smell nice, but will result in less storm—clean—water going into the PARCCside Clean Water Plant for processing. Earlier the former Wolverine World Wide pipes were filled with cement in an effort to reduce clean water leaking into the system. With significant leaks still occurring, the City tested the remaining sewer system for leaks.

“We found a lot of things,” said City Manager Michael Young. Young said the testing was to find where clean water is entering pipes in the City’s sewer lines. The lines lead to the new PARCCside Clean Water plant for treatment. “Every drop we can stop from being treated saves money,” Young said.

Water from storm drain lines—such as parking lot runoff—doesn’t need to be treated. The City was looking for things such as storm drains improperly connected to the sewer lines. Water can also enter the system through breaks in the pipes or missing manhole covers. They found all that and more.

Young said a cover in a manhole in woods was off and probably has been for years. Likely a plow truck pushed snow over the cover, knocking it off. “A 24-inch hole in the ground can let in a lot of water.”

The City are also found illegal connections, not necessarily on older properties. It used to be normal for contractors to connect storm drains to sewer lines, but has been a violation for years.

Young said some were easy fixes, such as manhole covers that shouldn’t have had holes but did and caps that were knocked off. Smoke coming up through the grass indicated a cap underground that had been knocked off at one time and was letting water into the system.
Young said the testing was mostly complete and would result in much less water being unnecessarily treated. “It was very interesting.”

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