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Richmond, KY
12:11 pm, June 18, 2024
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Flushable Wipes Damaging Berea’s Wastewater Collection System

Article written by Andy McDonald

The Berea City Council approved an emergency measure Tuesday to spend $120,000 to repair and replace sewer pumps that were damaged by flushable wipes.

Berea Municipal Utilities (BMU) Director Kevin Howard told officials the problem arose about a month ago when a pump at the Walnut Meadow Station was clogged by the wipes, requiring approximately $34,000 for repairs. Howard said the facility needs at least two working pumps at the given time to handle the flow of wastewater.

Currently only one of three pumps at the site is in operation as of Tuesday after a second pump at the facility failed because of clogging due to flushable wipes. The lead time to acquire parts to fix the existing pumps is between five and six weeks, and BMU is ordering a new pump at a cost of approximately $52,000, Howard told officials.

Howard said the city hopes to educate the public about the damage flushable wipes can do to the city’s waste water collection system. When Councilman Jim Davis asked if the city can ban flushable wipes to prevent future clogs and repair costs, Howard replied:

“We’ve got to do a public outreach on this. I don’t know if we could ban those, but we’ve got to educate the public that just because it’s [marketed as] flushable doesn’t mean that it’s treatable,” Howard said.

Howard noted that it’s in the interests of BMU customers to avoid disposing of flushable wipes into the city’s sewer system because the high cost of repairs will eventually impact utility rates and customers.  

In the meantime, Councilmember Katie Startzman asked what BMU could do to prevent future clogging and repair costs. Howard explained that BMU has installed a temporary aeration project that will ideally separate the wipes from wastewater and potentially prevent future clogging.

Installation of a new pump will likely occur by Monday, and when the other pumps are repaired, BMU will have a pump in reserve in case of another system failure, Howard said.

Councilmembers Ronnie Terrill, Jerry Little, Katie Startzman, Teresa Scenters, and Jim Davis voted to amend the BMU sewer budget line item from $125,000 to $225,000. Councilmember Cora Jane Wilson was not present for that vote, having left the meeting, while Steve Caudill and David Rowlette were not in attendance at Tuesday’s session.

A study conducted by the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) in 2019 revealed that wipes result in about $441 million a year in additional operating costs for collection systems of US clean water utilities.

The study further revealed that wipes impose $30,467 additional operating costs on the average utility nationwide. In many states, costs are significantly higher, such as California and New Jersey, where the average utility pays about $100,000 a year in additional costs because of complications and clogs caused by flushable wipes.

Reports suggest the problem became even worse during the COVID-19 pandemic, when there was hyper-vigilance about trying to prevent the spread of the disease and the use of flushable wipes significantly increased.

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