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Sewer testing to begin: Watch for smoke

Non-toxic substance will weed out pipe damage, bad connections
By: Martha Garcia, Colfax Record Editor
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Where there’s smoke, there isn’t always fire. Starting next week, the smoke could be coming from testing being conducted by the City of Colfax on sanitary sewer lines. During the testing, simulated smoke – a non-toxic substance – will be blown into parts of the sewer system to find damage, improper connections, and where unwanted water may be entering the city’s sewer system. Smoke may be seen coming from roof vents, down spouts, building foundations, catch basins, clean-outs, sewer laterals, or manhole covers. “We need to do the smoke test, so we know where the most serious problems are in the system so we can take that money and focus on the priority pipes that need to be repaired,” said city manager Bruce Kranz. The testing – scheduled to take place from Oct. 24 to Nov. 30 – is funded through a string of state and federal grants and loans totaling more than $6.6 million, which has enabled the city to continue work on its wastewater treatment plant and collection system. Similar smoke testing has taken place in the past, Kranz said, but the upcoming inspection will be more detailed and will allow the city to know, even in the private laterals, where the problems are. “If they start seeing smoke, they’ll know there’s a problem. They can call us up and we’ll give them advice,” he said. “The smoke coming out indicates there’s a break there and it needs to be repaired.” Broken pipes, such as those in a lawn or landscaping, could be a warning that storm water might be entering the sewage system. “This is the very thing that is creating problems in the treatment plant. It costs a lot of money to treat just storm water,” Kranz said. “We have to stop all this infiltration.” Kranz said it’s the obligation of owners of private sewer lines to fix breaks. A loan program for low-income property owners is available to those who qualify. Income categories range from $42,100 for a one-person household to $79,350 for households with eight persons. According to the manufacturer, the simulated smoke used in the testing is harmless to humans, pets, food and material items. It will not stain walls or furniture, nor will it leave a residue. There is also no danger of fire or explosion of sewer gas with the smoke testing process. Smoke in a building can be cleared in a few minutes by opening doors and windows to ventilate the premises, and faucets and bathroom facilities are fully usable during smoke testing. No one needs to be in a building at the time of the testing, said project engineer Jim Flutter. Inspection crews will not need to enter buildings, unless to gain access to building rooftops. “The team will be observing and documenting smoke sightings,” Flutter said. “We know that smoke will come out of the sewer vents at the of houses … That’s the only thing we want to see.” Flutter also said that prior to testing in a neighborhood, occupants will be given notice of start date. If the building is unoccupied, the door hangers, which will include contact information, will be left at the door. Police and fire will also be aware of the testing schedule. “They’ll know where and when the smoke testing is taking place,” Flutter said. Those who wish additional information, or anyone with respiratory problems, can contact city hall from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, at 346-2313. City offices are closed Mondays and Fridays.