How the Sewer System Works
The sewer system - it's as unpleasant as it sounds, but serves an important function. Even though the sewer works way better today than in the past, it's not foolproof. Both residents, the city and businesses contribute to the health and longevity of a sewer in order for it to function properly.
Over 650 Miles of Pipes Connect in Abilene's Sewer System
Before we discuss how to maintain our sewer system, let's go over how it works. The water and sewer systems work similarly to our veins and arteries. Clean water comes from the water treatment plant through a pipe system. The pipes get smaller as they branch off to different areas of town and ultimately to individual homes and businesses. After the water is used, it is called wastewater.
The wastewater drains into a separate pipe system called the sanitary sewer. As the sewer collects more and more wastewater, the pipes get larger as they transport the wastewater to the wastewater treatment plant.
A sanitary sewer overflow occurs whenever a sewer pipe gets clogged and sewage backs up through the path of least resistance. That could be outside from a manhole or it could burst through a weak spot in the pipe. It could also be inside through a bathtub, sink, dishwasher, etc. What most people don't realize is that the sewer system doesn't just carry away waste from the toilet, it carries away anything that goes down any drain in our homes and businesses.
Sinks, floor drains, washing machines, dishwashers, showers - they all drain to the sanitary sewer. So if the sewer gets clogged, sewage could back up through any of these sources and create a huge mess.
Preventing Sewer Backups
In order to prevent sanitary sewer overflows, we need to do our part to take care of Abilene's sewer system by not putting things down the drain that should go in the trash. The number one cause of sanitary sewer overflows in Abilene is grease, which coats the inside of pipes just like it does in a vein or artery. When the pipe eventually gets clogged, the sanitary sewer overflow is the equivalent of a heart attack.
Leftover grease and cooking oil should be cooled, poured or scraped into a disposable container and put in the trash, as well as greasy foods, not the garbage disposal. Just like your doctor cannot run the little balloon through every single one of your veins and arteries to unclog them, our sewer department cannot clean out every single pipe underneath our city. There are more than 650 miles of sewer pipe in Abilene! We have to do our part to maintain our sewer system!
Tips for Drains, Dishwashers, & Garbage Disposals
Food preparation in a complex of apartments, townhome and condo units creates a grease problem. Multiple kitchens, sinks and drains are in close proximity. All that grease hits a bottleneck when it connects the building's plumbing to city pipes.
Some renters may think, "It's not my house, so it's not my problem" - but it becomes their problem when wastewater overflows into their apartment. Personal property can be destroyed and their home becomes temporarily uninhabitable. When clogs and overflows happen, repairs can't be made without shutting off water to the entire building or area, causing headaches for every resident.
If every resident in a large complex were to allow just a teaspoon of grease to enter the pipes each week, it would all add up to a very serious problem.
Drain Clogs Are Worse for Multifamily Units
For tenants, plumbing backups aren't just inconvenient - they can also cause flooding that can destroy personal possessions in your own apartment and your neighbors'. Multiple floors for condo and apartment buildings are common even in a city as flat as Abilene.
Many residents are surprised to find that a drain clog is their responsibility, even damage that happens in neighboring units. If your condo or apartment is the source for a clogged drain that floods the entire floor below, you are liable for the damage.
Renter's insurance and condo insurance policies typically exclude damage caused by sewer overflow and drain backups.
It's easy to take for granted that when you turn on the tap or dishwasher, an unlimited supply of clean water will flow, and down the drain it will disappear. What's out of sight in the pipes is out of mind - until there's a problem somewhere down the line.
All drains within city limits connect to Abilene's sewer system. When drains and pipes get clogged and the wastewater backs up, not only do you have a mess on your hands, repairs can be difficult and costly. Many victims of a drainwreck are surprised to find it is their responsibility. Specifically from the Water Meter outside to the interior and from the Main Sewer line to the home's connection.
Any break that happens to this line is the responsibility of the homeowner, not the City of Abilene or your home insurance company. You may not be the only one who suffers the consequences - your neighbors can experience backups and unpleasant smells as well.
Thankfully, it's also easy for homeowners and tenants to learn simple, everyday habits that will keep their drains - and the pipes below - clean and clear.
- Never Pour Grease Down the Drain: Pour it into a can or directly into the trash.
- Don't Put Greasy Dishes in the Dishwasher: Wipe greasy dishes with a paper towel beforehand.
- Don't Put Fatty Foods into Your Garbage Disposal: Instead, put it into the trash. Besides, it will smell bad anyways.
- Refrain from Putting Disposable Wipes in the Toilet: They do not disintegrate.
Most modern homes in the U.S. are now built with an in-sink garbage disposal and dishwasher. While this convenience certainly can make our lives easier, it's one of the main causes of household and city plumbing problems.
Many people assume that hot water and detergent break up grease from pots, pans, and dishes, but the effect is only temporary. While your dishes may come out of your dishwasher sparkling like new, underground, the grease hardens and builds up causing wastewater pipes to slowly grow smaller and smaller inside.
Any kitchen grease that enters your plumbing system can eventually cause clogs, backups, and overflows. Household wastewater and sewer water can enter your home, and all the hot water and detergent in the world can't stop it from happening. That's because once grease and hot water enter the pipes, the hot water begins to cool, the grease begins to congeal, and all of it sticks to and builds up on the inside of the pipes that carry wastewater away from your home.
Disposals are equally dangerous for plumbing. Many people rinse food off their plates into the sink before washing them, then use the disposal and hot water to wash it down the drain. While out of sight may be out of mind, the grease from the food doesn't just disappear - it takes up residence in pipes underground.
To prevent costly plumbing problems - put every drop of kitchen grease where it belongs: in the trash. Instead of feeding your garbage disposal, scrape leftover food directly into the trash can, then wipe dishes with a paper towel before putting them into the dishwasher.