Old pipes, flat land can be a bad combination
For two days after Hurricane Matthew, Jim Wynn couldn’t wash laundry. He couldn’t take a shower. He couldn’t wash dishes. He couldn’t use his bathroom.
It had nothing to do with power outages or damage to his home. It had everything to do with the sewer system.
Wynn lives on Oakwood Drive, the site of a major sewer spill in February. He said he has had a chronic problem with sewage backing up into his home.
“I’m paying them to take it away, not to bring it to me,” Wynn said. “It affects me probably more than anybody.”
There are about 75 miles of gravity flowing sewer lines in Havelock and about 15 miles of force main sewer lines where 30 pump stations push sewage under pressure toward the city’s wastewater treatment plant on Jackson Drive. The network serves 5,704 paying customers.
Havelock is contracting with a firm to clean and inspect more than 16,000 linear feet of piping in a major effort to assess the viability of its aging sewer system. A.C. Schultes of Carolina, Inc. has been awarded a contract of $214,124 from sewer retained earnings for the work that could run through the middle of March.
According to Mark Sayger, public services director for Havelock, the work will be focused on areas in eastern Havelock that are south of U.S. 70, such as the Woodhaven area and where Wynn lives on Oakwood Drive.
Wynn said sewage backed up into his home during periods of heavy rain until he bought a backwater valve.
“I had to buy a valve to keep the sewage from coming up into my house, a backwater valve, and that rascal was expensive. It cost a lot of money,” said Wynn. “Whenever the water backs up, that valve does its thing and closes off so I have no sewer service until that valve opens back up again.
“After the hurricane, it was like two days that we were without sewer service. I kept going out and checking it and checking it and it was still closed. We couldn’t flush the commodes. We couldn’t use the bathroom, wash clothes or do any of that other stuff during the time that the water was backed up, which coincides with when it is coming out of that manhole up front.”
The manhole is number G111, located near the end of the Wynn driveway. The manhole is the same one where 192,000 gallons spilled into a nearby swamp on Feb. 6 during heavy rain.
The city came and replaced an adjacent manhole, number G106, right before the arrival of Hurricane Matthew in October.
“They came and replaced the manhole but it didn’t really change anything as far as I could tell,” said Wynn. “The manhole was still shooting water out of it during the hurricane and afterwards, so the repair didn’t do anything so far as I can tell.”
Wynn, who grew up on the nearby Slocum Creek since he was 12, hates to see the pollution entering the creek.
“We could live for a couple of days without having sewage service, but it is also the environmental damage that it does. It makes the woods stink,” said Wynn. “That stuff is going into the creek. That’s the east prong of Slocum Creek. From there it goes back by UPS, and then goes past Riverside Ford, down past the sewage treatment plant and all of those people that live on Slocum Creek back there. It affects all of them. They may not notice it, but it sure does make the place stink, and I would just like to see it cleaned up.”
Wynn’s problem is somewhat isolated, though extreme. His next door neighbor, who is farther away from the main line, does not report sewage coming up and doesn’t have a backwater valve.
Sayger said some of Havelock’s sewage spill issues are simple geography. The coastal area has a high water table where ground water can intrude into the system, pushing it to capacity so that during times of heavy rain, water backs up and then out of the system through either broken pipes or manholes.
“The sewer system is designed to convey a quantity of water that was originally sold to the residents or businesses,” he said. “The intrusion of additional water, usually storm water, into the sewer system means that the sewer system may be required to handle more water than for which it was designed.”
The high water table isn’t conducive to conducting repairs either, and pipes and system structures could also settle in wet soil, creating more issues.
Inflow and infiltration is a major problem in Havelock’s older lines. The city is also very flat, and the system collects fats, oils and grease, clogging lines. (FOG).
“Relatively flat areas with very little change in elevation are more susceptible to accumulation of FOG in the system due to the low to mild slopes of the pipes,” said Sayger. “This is probably one of the most critical factors affecting Havelock’s sewer system and is an area where citizens’ awareness and actions can produce significant improvements.”
Sayger said many portions of the sewer system are in easements through forested areas, which makes it difficult to keep clear of vegetation that produces root growth around and in the lines.
“As long as vegetative growth is cut down on a regular interval, usually annually, this is not a problem to control vegetation and roots,” Sayger said.
Havelock Mayor Will Lewis said one of the largest benefits of the clearing and inspection of the sewer lines will give the city needed information about just how bad certain portions of the lines are.
“We’re learning that the more prepared we want to be for the future and the more proactive we want to be about taking care of our assets, you have got to know what we’ve got and so this will help us get that information,” said Lewis.
Lewis said he hopes that the work will help solve Wynn’s backwater issue.
“All of that line has been hard to access and probably hasn’t been maintained the way it should have,” he said. “It is in a swamp. It’s hard to get to and we have found some breaks, some pipe that needed to be worked on and all of that was creating negative situations in other places along the line. Hopefully as we fix these things moving down the line it will create a whole lot less negative issues in other places on the line and make the whole system healthier.”
Sayger said that once the work begins, contractor operations may result in minor and temporary rerouting or street closures but any impact would be kept to a minimum.
Local residents will be issued notices in the neighborhoods well before the activities begin and there will be no temporary loss of service that is expected while the work is being completed, Sayger said.