Madison Heights to review entire sewer system with SAW grant

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published April 5, 2017

 Equipment operators will be able to peer inside pipes that in some cases date back to the 1940s.

Equipment operators will be able to peer inside pipes that in some cases date back to the 1940s.

Photo by Deb Jacques

MADISON HEIGHTS — The city of Madison Heights has an aging sewer system in which the oldest pipes have been underground since the 1940s. Yet their work never lets up: The 111 miles of sewer line — which range from 8 inches in diameter to 6 feet — serve more than 9,800 homes and nearly 1,400 businesses, pumping about 3 million gallons of water per day.

This workload, combined with their age, raises the question of their condition — and, in turn, the specter of a catastrophic failure.

Fortunately for Madison Heights, a grant from the state will help the city to monitor and maintain the system. The SAW grant — short for Stormwater, Asset Management and Wastewater — comes from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, or MDEQ. The amount is $2.44 million, of which $2 million is from the MDEQ directly. The remaining $444,444 will be covered by the city over multiple budget cycles.

In anticipation of the grant award, the city has already budgeted $75,000 in fiscal year 2016-17, with another $204,000 proposed for FY 2017-18 and $165,000 for FY 2018-19.

The bulk of the grant — around 95 percent — will go toward cleaning and televising the city’s entire sanitary sewer network, which encompasses 2,000 manhole inspections, calculations of risk and capital planning thereafter.

A contractor will use a combination sewer truck to jet high-pressure water to clean the lines from manhole to manhole, pulling back debris as they go. As sand, dirt and sediment accumulate in the manhole, they will be sucked out and hauled away. The combination truck can do both tasks simultaneously.

Then, once the sewer lines are cleared, a camera will be inserted into each manhole. The camera is remote-controlled and rides on tracks or wheels through the sewer pipe, looking at the overall condition and any notable deficiencies from the inside — cracks, stress, intrusions such as tree roots, mineral deposits and so on.

The contractor and Department of Public Services staff will also assess the overall condition of the manhole structures, looking for shifted bricks, missing mortar in joints, tree root infiltration, or any other issues requiring repair. In addition, they can tell whether unwanted discharges, such as grease, are making their way into the sewer system.

Once the sewer system is cleaned and televised, the SAW grant will fund asset management. The city’s GIS (Geographic Information System) maps will be updated with verified data, giving the city the ability to pull up pictures, videos, and a condition analysis and repair log for any part of the system with the click of a mouse.

Work on the monitoring system begins this month and will be completed in November 2018.

“Cleaning is a maintenance item that is performed on a constant basis. Although the entire sewer system is gravity-driven, with no pumps or lift stations, removal of sediments and buildup is required, much like snaking a drain line in a home,” said Joe Vitale, director of the Madison Heights Department of Public Services, in an email. “This program will allow us to catch and correct any repairs needed before a collapse, blockage or other failure occurs.”

The SAW grant program started in 2012, awarding funding by lottery on an annual basis. Madison Heights received funding in the fourth-round lottery pick, in late 2016, and is implementing it now for the FY 2017-18 budget cycle. Normally, the city’s DPS cleans one district per year, but the SAW funding will allow for a comprehensive cleaning and inspection of the entire system.

“Even at peak staffing, virtually no city has the resources to clean and inspect its entire sanitary sewer system all at once,” Vitale explained. “This grant allows us to do exactly that: create a comprehensive asset management plan, make any necessary repairs, and ensure that sewage continues to flow without incident for years to come.”

Madison Heights Mayor Pro Tem Mark Bliss was pleased to see the SAW grant come together. It was especially satisfying for Bliss since the initial application for the SAW grant was one of the first items that came up for him on council when he joined several years ago.

“Good things come to those who wait. This is a perfect example of that,” Bliss said. “The fact this was several years in the making, for me, is so exciting. The payoff is finally here for all the hard work that staff and (City) Council have been putting in. We’re now able to tackle this project, and we’re doing so with a significant grant where we can get it done.

“With new technology, we can put these cameras in our entire system and inspect every single manhole, and we’ll have an understanding of what needs to be fixed, proactively — things we can staff-rank in order of priority and urgency, with insights we never would’ve had without this project,” he said. “And the MDEQ is covering the majority of the cost. It’s just a huge win for the city.”