Sewer and water lines to be repaired or replaced

St. Louis city officials plan to replace or refurbish numerous sewer and water lines in the next ten years.

Existing sewer and water lines are nearing the end of their expected lifespan, and in some cases are beyond that. Most of the lines have been in the ground for more than 50 years. Some are cracked and leaking, allowing storm water to enter the sanitary sewer, which complicates the treatment process.

This is partly why a new water and sewer billing plan calls for raising rates for water and sewer use by 10 percent a year for the next seven years, which would just about double what St. Louis homeowners now pay for water and sewer. City council is expected to vote in March or April to approve the first 10 percent increase, which would take effect in July.

The city’s capital improvement plan calls for $4 million to replace water lines between now and 2023, $4 million to replace water lines from 2024 to 2028 and $7 million to set up a new municipal services complex water system in 2028.

Engineers from a company called FTC&H have recommended that water mains on Olive and Teman be considered for improvements.

On the sewer side, Spicer Group engineers analyzed St. Louis sewers by visual inspection using remote control cameras that crawl through the sewer. That visual inspection was the basis for setting sewer replacement priorities.

Currently, Public Services Director Keith Risdon is comparing recommended sewer and water projects with roadwork that DPW Superintendent Mark Abbott wants done.

Where possible, city officials coordinate needed road work with sewer and water work so as to kill two (or three) birds with one stone, so to speak.

The result is savings for city property owners, as sewer, water and road projects can be done on the same roads at the same time, as they were last year on Prospect from North Main to Corinth and Corinth from Prospect to Olive.

Following is the city’s plan for sewer work over the next 12 years, but with an important caveat. Since the analysis of infrastructure needs is ongoing, “the named projects may not be the final list of projects which we would seek approval on,” said Risdon in an email.

The capital improvement plan includes:

1.) A $1.1 million sewer project on Olive Street (from Hebron to Sharon and Eden to Berea), on Teman Street (from Prospect north about 500 feet) and some sections of North Mill Street downtown in the 100 and 300 blocks in 2019 and 2020.

2.) A $5.7 million project to replace the Union Street pump station in 2021 and/or 2022. The pump station is located on the south side of River Court where it meets Union Street. The station itself is the brown brick building adjacent to the parking lot east of the high school athletic field complex.

3.) And $1.3 million for “Remaining Level V Sewer Repairs” from 2023 through 2030

Pump House

This is the pump house scheduled for replacement in 2021 and/or 2023.

The pump station replacement project includes construction of a “flow equalization basin” to hold excess sewage flow from leaking sewer joints, bad sewer service lines, downspouts, footing drain and sump pump connections.

Although free flow of sewage from homes to the treatment plant is the main reason for repair and replacement of sewer lines, an important concomitant is minimizing leakage that lets rain water and melting snow intermingle with wastewater in need of treatment.

A recent example is a rain storm that hit the city in late January. Flows at the treatment plant were around one million gallons per day before the rain, Risdon wrote.

The treatment plant measured a rainfall of 0.72 inches from the storm, and water entering the plant through sewer lines doubled, Risdon wrote. “This increase of approximately one million gallons of flow was a direct result of the storm water entering the sanitary sewer system for treatment at the plant.”

That’s where replacing and repairing leaky sewer lines and connections can help reduce the amount of water flowing into the plant.

One such repair took place Friday, Feb. 16, as a crew from Insituform out of Howell installed a “cast-in-place plastic liner” in 250 feet of leaky 18-inch sewer pipe just south of the high school football field, a $50,000 job. These liners can be installed without digging up and replacing pipe, but the cost is about the same as digging up and replacing pipe because of the technology involved. The chief advantage is that the ground, or in many cases roads and sidewalk, don’t have to be torn up.

Liner install

A crew from Insituform installs a liner in 250 feet of sewer near the high school football field.

Storm water also gets into the sanitary sewer from downspouts, footing drains, sump pumps or catch basin connections, Risdon wrote. These connections are illegal, but many were made before separation of storm sewers and sanitary sewers was required by law.

(A catch basin is the area underneath storm water drains in the road.)

“The city removed the known catch basin connections a number of years ago,” Risdon wrote. “The next step is to locate and disconnect other illicit connections, a project that will take years to complete. Excess flow causes sewer backups, sewage overflows and is a strain on the treatment process.”

This is a touchy subject because the city can’t use our tax dollars to remove illegal connections to sanitary sewer. Each individual property owner must pay for the work.

“As this separation would be considered a private responsibility, the city cannot spend public money on private property or for private repairs,” Risdon wrote.

However, state government has a low interest loan program called the Strategic Water Quality Initiatives Fund that was created to help pay for sewer separation work on private property. “The city is currently looking into this type of private assistance as a consideration for residents as we move forward in sanitary sewer projects,” Risdon wrote.

The last item in city’s capital improvement plan is called “Remaining Level V Sewer Repairs.” It’s currently a  $1.3 million line item and tentatively scheduled to be acted on from 2023 through 2030. These are annual sewer replacement/repair projects being proposed based on video evidence of the pipe condition and leakage problems.

As we saw last week with the sewer collapse and repair at Hazel and Michigan, the sewer pipes are beginning to fail. 

“Sections of pipe shown in the Level IV category will continue to age and fall into the V level,” Risdon wrote.  “Cracks and leaks will continue to appear as the pipe ages.”

That’s a good illustration of how sewer repair and replacement plans must be somewhat fluid, as problems crop up here and there every year and need attention.


If you found this article helpful, please tell friends and neighbors about the St. Louis Sentinel. The Morning Sun and Gratiot County Herald only cover St. Louis superficially, whereas the Sentinel’s coverage is comprehensive and written by a St. Louis resident.


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