“Out of sight, out of mind” is certainly applicable to Pine Bluff’s wastewater. But when heavy rains send excess waters into the 125-year-old underground sewer system, the resulting overflow quickly generates an unpleasant and unsafe health and safety hazard that is often impossible to ignore.
One way to help alleviate that problem is preventive maintenance, which Pine Bluff Wastewater Utility General Manager Ken Johnson terms “a proactive approach.”
PBWU has invested $300,000 in a project designed to not only drastically reduce overflows of raw sewage, but also possibly save the city millions of dollars by extending the life of pipelines in its sewage infrastructure.
Approximately 15 Suncoast Infrastructure and 10 PBWU employees are today expected to wrap up about five weeks of work on the effort. Some 10,000 linear feet of new liners have been installed in several locations prioritized by frequency of problems.
The liners protect against excess water entry into the sewer lines — thus negating overflows from manholes — while also decreasing the volume through the system and to the treatment facility.
The installation process involves the heating of resin that forms for insertion into the pipes. Steps are largely performed at street level in what Johnson describes as “trenchless technology” that eliminates lengthy service interruptions and expensive digging.
“Similar work is scheduled in 2014 and additional work will be done over the next five years,” said Johnson, who noted that the rehabilitation is intended to eventually strengthen the entire system. “This will extend the life of pipe by 50 to 60 years.”
Johnson said much of the affected pipe has been in use 30 to 40 years.
“We’re trying to improve some problems and potential problems with the system because of its age,” he explained, pointing out that some deterioration can be tracked back from 25 years ago.
Funding for the current and upcoming enhancements was derived from sewer fees paid by PBWU’s customers.
“We try to be good stewards of our revenue by putting money back into the system,” Johnson said. “We’re constantly making improvements.”
A more extensive upgrade was performed with a 2011 contract, Johnson said.
The attention is reaping dividends as annual wastewater service interruptions over the past decade have lessened from around 300 to about 35, Johnson stressed.
Johnson said Suncoast — headquartered in Mississippi — is one of several firms that have done contract work with PBWU.