April 12, 2009

Unintended consequences - Plumbing and the environment

These stories just write themselves. From the Seattle Times:

State agency offices pollute creek in Vancouver
Thirteen years after Washington state's environmental agency found a creek severely polluted, the contamination has been traced back to the agency's regional office.

City workers discovered this week that a sewer line from the building housing the regional offices of the state Department of Ecology and Department of Fish and Game, and a small U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contingent, was mistakenly connected to a storm water runoff system, rather than a municipal sewer main.

As a result, sewage from the building has been entering Burnt Bridge Creek and eventually Vancouver Lake for an unknown number of years.

And it took these idiots thirteen years to find the leak?

This is something that could have been found in a few days if they were serious about it. Take samples and when you stop finding pollution, you are upstream from the source. Backtrack and run a video camera through the pipe. Here is what they did instead:

For 2 1/2 years, city workers have been using a probe mounted with a small television camera to survey 300 miles of underground storm water pipes. Municipal public works director Brian Carlson said this is the first time an old sanitary sewer has been found mistakenly hooked into a storm water pipe.

It doesn't require a video camera, it just requires opening up a manhole every few miles, do a chemical test for urine (five minutes). Still polluted? Walk upstream another mile or two and repeat. You do not need to view the pipe inch by inch and doing so is an incredibly inefficient use of time.

And as for this quote:

Municipal public works director Brian Carlson said this is the first time an old sanitary sewer has been found mistakenly hooked into a storm water pipe.

I call bullshit - from the Seattle Times, December 16th, 2005:

Hospital waste ends up in lake
In mid-October, a Seattle city consultant spotted cloudy water, syringes, tampon applicators and toilet paper flowing from the pipe that is supposed to carry rainwater into south Lake Union.

A combination of peering down manholes and testing for bacteria in the water eventually led to a culprit: Swedish Medical Center's flagship hospital on First Hill, Seattle officials said. A sewer line apparently has been dumping raw sewage into the stormwater system and Lake Union.

And were they as efficient in tracing it back to the source:

But the utility also acknowledged that city workers first documented the problem seven years ago, when they videotaped soap and toilet paper pouring through the pipe from Swedish.

“I think we missed it,” said Sally Marquis, who manages the utility's stormwater-system division. “Somebody saw the problem in 1998 and apparently took pictures, and then there was some time that passed, and we don't know why things were passed up.”

Hat tip to Sound Politics for the link.

Posted by DaveH at April 12, 2009 02:25 PM | TrackBack
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