While some form of sewer cleaning activities has taken place in El Monte, California, for more than 50 years, it’s been the last 10 where it has been a major focus. That’s when the City approved an enterprise fund tax to provide money for its sewer system maintenance.
The sewer cleaning and maintenance falls under the auspices of the City’s Wastewater Division, and is led by Robert Humble, a 20-year veteran with the city and 10 years in the Wastewater Division.
Located in the San Gabriel Valley, the City is approximately 12 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. The City’s Wastewater department manages 125 miles of sewer mains, 2,687 manholes and seven sewer lift stations, and its system feeds into the larger Los Angeles County Sanitation District for treatment and recycling.
“I’ve been with the wastewater department for 10 years. We’ve been hydro cleaning since I started in the division. I’ve heard they used to clean lines with the ball method in the past, so I am guessing it’s been about 50 to 60 years the city has been cleaning sewer mains,” says Humble. “Overall, our system is vitrified clay pipe, with a mix of repaired sections of PVC pipe.”
At its current staffing level, the Wastewater Division has four employees and plans to be fully staffed with five later this year. At this staffing level, Humble says it takes about two years to get through the entire system for cleaning and inspection. He hopes that when they are fully staffed that can be trimmed to one year.
“Right now, our program consists of hydro jetting with our two Vactor combination trucks,” says Humble. “We rely on our CUES CCTV camera system for the inspection [and data] part of our program.” The CUES CCTV system was added about 10 years ago. Recently the department upgraded the software on its CCTV truck to GraniteNet. Also added about 10 years ago was an aggressive root control program.
“I would say our root problem is less than 5 percent, but we do run the root program with RootX once every three months in the areas where it is needed,” says crew member David Gallegos. “The problem is that if the roots are not maintained, they can infiltrate through the cracks in a pipe and cause backups in certain areas of our system, which can be harmful to the public. The root program saves us from having to make costly repairs.”
Prior to using RootX, the crew was using their hydrojetter and mechanical methods (root cutter) for root removal and they were doing it blind without the benefit of a camera system. “I would say the top benefit of using RootX is that it has prevented costly repairs,” says Gallegos. “In the past we would have to excavate and repair a sewer main because it would be full of roots.”
According to Humble, these additions have greatly improved the department’s abilities and are due in part to an enterprise fund tax for sewer services. “We were able to purchase a CCTV truck, two new hydro trucks and three new utility trucks for the department,” he says. “Before the enterprise fund tax increase, we had a two-man crew, right now we have a four-man crew and we hope to make it a six or seven-man crew in the future. It has definitely given us the tools to maintain the sewer system for our residents and business owners.”
As the department has grown, so too has the crew’s training. They are NASSCO certified for PACP, MACP and LACP; and all crew members are California Water Environment Association (CWEA) certified for Collection System Maintenance.
“This training is required by the department, and it is important because it keeps us updated on the latest training, techniques and methods to help us maintain our infrastructure,” says crew member Art Chavira.
Overall, the increased focus has made the department a proactive group as opposed to reactive. In addition to root control, certification and training, the department has added a SCADA system to its sewer lift stations and 14 Smartcovers to help maintain certain parts of the city’s sewer system.
“The way we clean, and camera (CCTV) now is night and day from when I first started with the department,” Humble says. “The City of El Monte wastewater department is proactive. All of what we do is designed to keep the residents and businesses of El Monte safe and to eliminate SSOs within the City.”