A Program Of The

City Of Columbia

Clean Water 2020 Update: City Making Strides in System-wide Sewer Overhaul

Columbia, SC – May 5, 2014

On July 9, 2013, the City launched the Clean Water 2020 program – an overarching revamping and revitalization of its wastewater collection and treatment system. This program builds on major upgrades and rehabilitation work that began as early as 2005 as part of the City's dedicated effort to improve its entire sewer system. So what has the City been up to since then?

The City has already evaluated a significant portion of its sewer lines and manholes. Since 2009, the City has assessed approximately 15% of its 1,100 mile system. "This puts us well on our way to meeting our goal of assessing the entire system in 10 to 15 years," says Bill Davis, City of Columbia WasSewer Line Cameratewater Engineer. According to Davis, "This work is critical for the rest of the Clean Water 2020 program because it allows us to prioritize exactly where work needs to be done. Some older areas will require major rehabilitation while other, newer areas are still in good condition."
The City has also completed work on four of its five major pump stations, with the fifth due for completion in summer 2014. Its most recently completed pump station, the West Columbia Pump Station, is also its largest. Designed to withstand 100-year floods, it has a back-up generator large enough to run a small wastewater treatment plant. This generator will start up within seconds of a power failure and, since it runs on natural gas, can run indefinitely even under flooded conditions.

But the City's efforts don't just stop when construction ends. "How staff manages and operates the system on a daily basis is critical to protecting our investment, which is why training is so important," says Davis. The City is modernizing its operation and maintenance practices—from formalizing design and construction standards for contractors to developing standard operating and maintenance manuals for staff. And staff is benefitting, too, with training to do their jobs more efficiently and effectively. In 2013, the City began an Apprenticeship Program where wastewater collection system and wastewater plant operators can earn certifications and licenses in their fields of expertise.

The City is also working with citizens to protect our investment. Through its Commercial Fats, Oils and Grease Program, staff is working with local food service establishments like restaurants and hotels to keep sewer-clogging grease out of the sewer system. The City has also launched the "Trash the Grease" and "Trash the Wipes" public service announcements to educate residents on how everyone can help protect our sewer system.

So what effect is all this work having on sanitary sewer overflows? The City began tracking sanitary sewer overflows on a fiscal year basis (July 1-June 30) in 2008. In 2008/2009, the City experienced 455 overflows. By 2012/2013, the number of overflows had been reduced by over 70%. According to Davis, though, "The extreme wet weather this year has been a challenge." Over two-thirds of the overflows seen in 2013/2014 so far can be attributed to wet-weather conditions. However, on the upside, grease-related overflows continue to show a decline, meaning the City's continued efforts in implementing the Commercial Fats, Oils & Grease Program are paying off.