Jul 21 2013

OPINION: Piedmont Smoke Testing Personal Sewer Laterals

Piedmont has an ongoing Smoke testing program to test for and detect infiltration and inflows (I/I) in your Personal Sewer Lateral (“PSL”). An inflow is water entering your PSL by an illegal connection that was formerly legal by decades old construction methods. The most common would be a cross-connection from your roof gutters. This can literally add hundreds if not thousands of gallons of water in the rainy season from a single home.

An infiltration is a crack or offset in your PSL. A PSL is often buried at up to six feet down and the amount of water let in by a crack can be negligible, literally a miniscule fraction as compared to an illegal inflow connection. The smoke testing will detect all I/Is and be reported to the City for correction.

Virtually all clay pipe PSL have some displacement and will fail the test even if no cross connection is present. EBMUD Manager of Wastewater Environmental Services Ben Horenstein stated that a clay system is better entirely replaced than repaired. Many steel PSL’s may have a displaced hub and this will require repair or replacement. The displacement inflows are negligible compared to an illegal cross-connection, yet the homeowner will have to bear the cost of entire replacement, normally starting at $5,000.

EBMUD has recently dramatically increased its rates; they do not intend to increase the capacity of their treatment plants. The reason our PSL’s are being tested is the result of a 2011 and 2012 Stipulated Orders (“SO”); the primary focus of these SOs is to stop the EBMUD treatment plants from becoming overwhelmed and discharging waste water into the Bay. Certainly, illegal inflows should be stopped, but I question the wisdom of forcing a complete PSL replacement on the many older homes that contribute negligible and inconsequential amounts to the overflow.

Of the seven public agencies affected by the Stipulated Orders, Piedmont is at 65% of mainline sewer replacement and second only to Emeryville at 70%. Piedmont is far ahead of the other cities in terms of mainline replacement. Berkeley has made significant progress and has a bit over a third of their mainline sewer replaced. Emeryville is an anomaly as their system is even older than Piedmont’s and their farsighted vision of attracting Big Box retail required properly working infrastructure. There is no resident sewer parcel tax in Emeryville.

Piedmonters have one of the highest sewer taxes (and the very highest school tax) and City Hall has attempted dramatic and questionable increases of the sewer tax. $900,000 of out $2.1M sewer tax revenue is transferred to General Funds annually with no time sheet system in place for the $900,000 transfer. Other costs taken from the Sewer Fund include storm drain work and, in some instances, the cost of repairing private party expenses as in the PHUUD Undergrounding Crest Road collapse. Eventually, that $275,000 was replaced by other taxpayer money from the General Fund; I would characterize this as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Those at City Hall who lament that Piedmont is no longer in the lead in improving the environment miss the total picture, or do not care to see it. Our mainline replacement is far ahead of other cities and close behind Emeryville (with no sewer parcel tax). Piedmonters are replacing PSLs at a higher rate than other cities as a higher percentage of Piedmont residents can afford this “luxury.” We continue to take the lead in the complex issue of keeping the Bay and environment clean.

Rick Schiller, Piedmont Resident

July 21, 2013

Editors’ Note:  The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Piedmont Civic Association. 

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