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From left, Public Utilities Department crew members Ricky Pardue, Travis Isaacs and Jimmy
Hicks pump smoke into a manhole on Cherrybrook Lane as part of ongoing sewer line testing.
Photos by Anna Oakes | Watauga Democrat

Originally published: 2013-12-16 12:42:57
Last modified: 2013-12-16 12:42:57

Utility crews smoke-test Boone sewer lines

by Anna Oakes

The Boone Public Utilities Department wants to advise town residents of ongoing smoke tests of the town's sewer system, which will continue throughout several months of 2014.

The department is searching for any breakages in sewer lines that would allow groundwater to flow in or sewage to leak out, Public Utilities Director Rick Miller said. With the year's heavy rains, the department has observed increases in the amounts of wastewater being treated at the wastewater treatment plant -- an indication that groundwater is entering the system.

"The flow at the wastewater treatment plant ... got up during this wet season to where we knew we had a problem of some kind with groundwater," Miller said.

Utility crews force smoke into the sewer system at manholes and then observe the locations of the rising smoke. If a line is cracked or broken, smoke will arise through the ground or a crack in pavement. If homes are plumbed properly, the smoke will emerge through a vent pipe on the roof. But if there are problems with residential plumbing, smoke could arise from sinks or other drains within the home, Miller said.

If that happens, it means sewer gases could be getting into the residence -- "a number of gases out there that you don't want in your home," Miller said -- and he recommends calling a plumber.

Miller said that in recent weeks of testing, at least one woman observed smoke in her home and thought her house was on fire. Although the department wants local residents to be aware that smoke testing is being conducted, Miller said residents should always call 911 or the fire department if smoke is observed in the home -- just to be safe.

The department is conducting smoke tests at least one day each week, and currently, about 10 to 15 percent of the entire system has been tested. Miller hopes that the entire system test will be complete by July of next year.

Although the town is required to inspect its system annually, an extensive, systemwide test such as this one has not been conducted since the early 1990s, Miller said.

Each observed breakage in the system will be documented, and in most cases, repairs can be made within the department's operational budget, Miller said. Significant repairs would require budget amendment approval by the Boone Town Council.

For more information, contact the Public Utilities Department at (828) 268-6250.