County engineers warn homeowners of illegal storm water connections

Inflow and infiltration are terms used to describe the ways that groundwater and storm water enter the sanitary sewer system. Inflow is water that is discharged into the sewer system through improper or illegal connections, such as downspouts and groundwater sump pumps. Infiltration is groundwater that enters sanitary sewer systems through cracks or leaks in the sanitary sewer pipes.

BY D’ARCY EGAN

Over the years, many residents have connected sump pumps, yard drains and gutter downspouts to their sanitary sewer systems, rather than to a storm sewer. They are two completely different systems, said County Engineer J. Kelly Frey, and should not be connected.

The Ottawa County Sanitary Engineerings Department is taking steps to educate the public about the unwanted infiltration and inflow of surface and groundwater into the sanitary sewer. If the problem is not corrected, said Frey, residents could be charged an extra fee, fined or see taxes increase to expand the capacity of the sanitary sewer and wastewater treatment plant.

“An expansion of the sanitary sewer and wastewater treatment plant would be very expensive, running into the millions of dollars,” said Frey. “Erie County, for example, has increased its sewer rates by adding what they refer as an EPA fee to cover the cost of removing infiltration and inflow.”

Frey says the problem is preventable. Residents need to make sure sump pumps, yard drains and gutter downspouts do not flow into a sanitary sewer system. When sanitary sewer lines are compromised, he said, groundwater can enter the sanitary sewer systems through cracks or leaks in the sanitary sewer pipes.

“Traditionally, rain events trigger flows that increase the volume of water at our treatment facilities,” said Frey. “With recent high water levels on Lake Erie and strong east or northeast winds, we have seen coastal flooding that is presenting new challenges.”

The high water and rainy weather has stretched the capacity of the county’s sewage treatment plants.

By removing excessive infiltration and inflow from the collection system, Ottawa County will be abler to maximize the use of its current facilities and minimize the possibility of raising water and sewer rates, said Frey.

To check for illegal connections, Ottawa County Sanitary Engineering personnel will increase its monitoring of wastewater mains and individual services to locate violations. To avoid penalties or prosecution, residents with stormwater or sewage issues should contact the department to formulate a remediation plan.

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