Thursday, September 5, 2013

We're Number 1! (And Not in a Good Way)

Pottstown's sewer system tops the Pennsylvania list for worst sewer systems for storm water infiltration.

That's what Pottstown Borough Authority Vice Chairman David Renn told borough council during the Wednesday night work session.

In other words, he said, the Wastewater Treatment Plant on Industrial Boulevard sees the largest increase between average sewage flow and maximum sewage flow during rainstorms of any other plant in Pennsylvania.

"Our average to maximum flow is the worst sewer plant in the Commonwealth during a storm," Renn said.

Stormwater inflow is a sewer system problem for two reasons.
Storm and groundwater can enter the 
sanitary sewer through cracked pipes.

First, it costs the system money to treat more water and stormwater, which starts out clean, does not need to be treated.

Second, the sudden influx of water strains the system and can lead to overflow at the plant.

That costs ratepayers money in federal and state government fines and can also pollute the Schuylkill and its tributaries with untreated sewage.

That's a bad thing because the Schuylkill is a drinking water source for more than one million people downstream of Pottstown.

Renn made the remark during conversation about the borough authority's request to council last month to increase the base sewer rate by $5 this year; as was done last year.
Aerial view of the Pottstown
Wastewater Treatment plant.

At its August meeting, the authority voted to request that council adopt an increase of $5 per quarter for the base rate, and an additional 20 cents per 1,000 cubic feet of water used.

The increase works out to about $30 per year for the average household, Renn told council.

When combined with the increase council approved last year, the requested increase in October would bring the average homeowner’s bill from $99.70 in 2011 to $115.70 in 2013, an increase of eight percent over the two-year period.

The authority is also asking that council approve an 8 percent increase this year in the sewer rate charged to commercial properties.

Although the authority can raise water rates without council’s authority, because it owns the water system outright, the sewer system operates differently, with the borough owning the system and contracting with the authority to operate it.

As a result, only borough council can change sewer rates.

Council is scheduled to vote on the request at its Sept. 9 meeting.

Renn's remark about the influx of stormwater to the system was meant to highlight the need to replace aging sewer pipes, some of which, Public Works Director Doug Yerger said, are clay and may be more than 100 years old.

"The ultimate goal is to attack the I and I," said Renn.

Stormwater intrusion into the sewer system -- known as "I and I" for "inflow and infiltration" -- "is all because of old pipes," which are often cracked or broken and allow groundwater and rainwater into the system, Renn said.

"Sewer pipe replacement is greatly needed throughout the borough," he said.

Renn added, "sump pumps are also a problem. People have them empty into basement drains that are hooked into the sanitary sewer. We find them and make them disconnect them and then when we leave, they hook it back up," Renn said.

By raising rates last year and this year, the authority hopes to fund ongoing capital improvements both to the plant and to the piping system without having to borrow money, which costs additional money in interest payments.

"We think paying as we go with small rate increases is better than borrowing," Renn told council.

The authority’s sewer debt load is already 40 percent of the sewer budget.
The idea seems to have support from several council members.

Borough Council President Stephen Toroney said "we used to do these repairs on an emergency basis, which is always more expensive. Now we're doing it on a preventative basis."

Council Vice President Jeff Chomnuk, who is also a member of the authority board with Renn, said an additional advantage is that the sewer pipe work often results in "getting roads re-paved."


  1. In the diagram it showes tree root infiltration into sewer pipes. At all the Shade Tree Commission meetings I attended, it was stressed that tree roots do not cause this problem.

    1. Tree roots do cause this problem. I know from personal experience. It is one of many ways, external water can get into the sanitary sewer system, which, ideally, is a sealed system.

    2. See below comment. Roots may not "cause" this problem so much as capitalize on an existing problem.

  2. I agree with you. But when this was brought up at the Shade Tree Commission, it was disputed by the then 3 person board. They planted these treed in the late '70s and early '80s with no regard of the consequences. I know, I lived here since I was born in '54. (good grief)

  3. Defective sewer lines
    Tree roots will not penetrate a sound sewer line. If tree roots enter a sewer line, it is because the pipe is
    faulty. When a sewer pipe breaks or leaks because of age or improper installation, nutrients and water
    ooze into the surrounding soil. This will attract any nearby roots, which will thrive and may even enter
    the defective pipe and block the passage.
    Many older sewer pipes in Pottstown are made of clay, which eventually cracks because of soil settlement
    or earth tremors. Modern sewer pipe is made of iron or plastic. Problems can be prevented by:
    * Proper construction of new sewer lines, including tight joints and a firm soil base.
    * Repair or replacement of defective sewers. Repeated blockage may indicate a damaged pipe

    This is from Save our Land Save our Town website

    1. OK, I stand corrected.
      What I know from personal experience has to do with my neighbor. I know they had a root problem with their sewer line. That's what I know.
      But that does not mean the root caused the problem, it can just as easily mean it took advantage of an existing problem.

  4. The whole crux of the problem is that some group can come in and do something in the name of "helping the town" only to leave more problems in it's wake. We are not a safe walking school district because we have so many heaved sidewalks. Now the boro is looking for grants to correct this problem. We have sewer problems because I truly believe improper tree planting is the cause of our sewer problem. I also wish to apologize. My first post was done to prove a point. Again, I was at some of these meetings where the tree planting subject was discussed, and it was contentious to say the least.