Managing Sewer Systems with Technology

In Kentucky, we have many sewer systems that could be classified as outdated. This is due to the lack of maintenance that has occurred over the past 30 years and because of sewer systems that are not equipped to differentiate storm water and sewage when serious storm events occur.  When these severe storm events take place, many sewer systems get backed and may cause wastewater treatment facilities to discharge untreated wastewater into local waterways. In order to fix this problem, local governments would have to spend millions of dollars rebuilding their local sewer systems. As we already know, local governments stretch budgets for infrastructure to the max and rebuilding plants is probably out of the question for many communities here in the Commonwealth.

In South Bend, Ind. residences are experiencing backups in their basements when a serious storm event occurs. The local government has been looking for solutions that don’t include a $100 million renovation of their existing sewer system. They decided on a technology that uses an arrangement of sensors and software that will cost the community around $6 million. According to South Bend Director of Public Works Gary Gilot, the project not only saved the city $114 million, but it also has reduced the number of sewage overflow incidents from twenty-seven to 1 a year. The solution was a system that married 116 sensors (developed at the nearby University of Notre Dame), strategically dispersed throughout the 500-mile sewer system, with IBM’s cloud-based Intelligent Operations Center software. The reduction in overflows also saved the city another approximately $600,000 in government fines.

By using the sensor network and the software, the city can look at real-time data that shows precise locations of possible overflows allowing city employees to divert water from these problematic areas to ensure no homes will experience back-ups in their basements and homes. Currently, Louisville has the same type of sensor system in place that helps reroute storm water from bottlenecked sanitary sewer lines. This type of technology could be applied to many communities throughout Kentucky that may be experiencing the same type of predicament in their combined sewer systems.

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