Education Key To Addressing Growing Lateral Issues

Finding ways to effectively address problems posed by deteriorating laterals is one of the most serious challenges municipal and utility districts face in rehabilitating sanitary sewer infrastructures.

In our September issue, the first of our lateral series provided background about years of lateral neglect. The core of the problem is that many sewer providers take the position that laterals are the responsibility of the property owners they serve.

The second article in October reported on positive steps being taken and the important role trenchless procedures can play.

In this article, several industry representatives say what they believe is necessary to make significant progress in bringing laterals up to acceptable standards. Industry representatives sharing their views for this report agree on many points, differ on others.

One word – education — defines the key to solutions to most lateral issues in the view of George Kurz, P.E., DEE, senior technical leader, Barge Waggoner Sumner & Cannon Inc.

Many believe the starting point for effectively addressing lateral improvements is for system operators to accept responsibility for laterals.

“For that, education is the best solution and strategy,” Kurz said. “I do not believe there is a good way to force public system operators to take responsibility for private laterals. If there is not a positive ‘buy-in’ for operators, attempting to force acceptance can generate hostility and additional barriers to communication between operators and regulatory agencies. Therefore, I believe that legislation is the least desirable course for directly addressing this. This view isn’t based on ideology–either pro- or anti-government — but concern that the issue could become a political football and actually backfire.”

In addition, education is the key to making the industry and public aware of the need to address lateral problems, resolving responsibility for lateral replacement and rehabilitation, understanding technologies available today for rehabilitating laterals, developing new technologies that will be more effective and strategies to employ them — all begin and continue with education, said Kurz, who has more than 35 years experience developing strategic approaches for eliminating sewer inflow and infiltration (I&I) at the state and municipal levels and now as an engineering consultant.

Kurz does not believe property owners can be expected to maintain the condition of their laterals.

Most property owners do not know what a lateral is, or its function. While a defective lateral may affect the property owners when sewage backs up or the line becomes clogged, hundreds or thousands of failing laterals affect the whole system.

Cured-in-place pipe (CIPP) lining is a primary method available for trenchless lateral rehabilitation. Gil Carroll, director of business development, MaxLiner USA and Applied Felts, Inc., a leader in the CIPP market, agreed that education is of critical importance. He believes the solution ultimately is for property owners to assume responsibility for the condition of laterals on their property.

“Given the political climate surrounding government mandates, this does not seem to be the most expeditious solution to the problem,” said Carroll “First of all, funding is a major challenge facing the underground construction industry. Any legislation designed to enforce lateral maintenance by municipalities would most likely come in the form of an unfunded mandate. This action would drive a deeper wedge into the issue.”

Carroll said cities who say they don’t “own” laterals on private property but rehabilitate them, typically do so out of necessity.

“It is not something municipalities would choose to do in an ideal situation,” he said. “In our experience, the cities who take this proactive approach are plugging the dam before it bursts. If property owners were made responsible for lateral rehabilitation, and if these small diameter pipes were maintained properly, municipalities would not be involved. But the reality is that laterals contribute to I/I and affect the entire wastewater infrastructure; therefore, in order to maintain appropriate efficiency levels cities are forced into this situation.”

Carroll said the best path toward progress comes in the form of education and awareness among property owners.

“The point has been made before, but laterals truly are an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ issue and as a result, lateral maintenance by owners is not always a priority. If anything, mandates should be required of property owners, not cities. But in order for this issue to be resolved, there needs to be a clear delineation of where the responsibility of the city ends and that of the property owner begins. Frankly, it could be as simple as property lines. It will take a clear resolution of boundaries and responsibilities in order to experience the robust growth in rehab that is necessary compared to the need for it projected by our industry.”

Regulatory answer?
In situations where laterals must be replaced, pipebursting is an effective alternative to trenching.

TT Technologies has led the development of the pipebursting market in the United States, and TT President Chris Brahler believes legislation is the only real option for effectively addressing failing laterals.

“System owners are responsible for the inflow and infiltration (I&I) of their systems, how they impact their operations and ultimately spills,” said Brahler. “They must comply with EPA regulations and deal with fines, etc. associated with I&I that impacts their systems.

“Much I&I is from leaking laterals or the connections at mains for the lateral. Legislation could help by requiring system owners to take responsibility for assessing the laterals connected to their systems and require them to be replaced with new pipes. These costs, which are minimal additions to rehabilitation programs of the main lines, can be recovered over time with slight rate increases.”

Brahler agrees education is important and should be coming from industry organizations and groups, including municipal and utility organizations.

“However,” he said, “if there is no legislation in place to compel utilities to act, what can education accomplish? If there are firm requirements, there will be education about compliance and execution of lateral rehabilitation and replacement programs.”

Hoffman Southwest Corp. operates Roto Rooter franchises in California, Oregon, Arizona and Utah. Its personnel use CIPP, pipebursting and open-cut construction to service hundreds of sewer laterals every day, said Mark Metcalfe, vice president of operations.

Local ordinances are becoming a factor in some of Hoffman Southwest’s service areas as municipalities adopt ordinances requiring lateral inspection anytime a property owner has a sanitary sewer overflow. The inspection then triggers appropriate rehabilitation.

“Rehabilitation of laterals by cities seems to be more common in beach communities, communities close to the ocean or cities with ground water or I&I issues,” Metcalfe said. “As more cities do CCTV inspections of their sewer systems on a regular basis, lateral roots protruding into the main or high flows of infiltration will result in more lateral rehabilitation.”

Requiring lateral inspection and rehabilitation if necessary before property is sold also can be a factor, believes Metcalfe.

“This is becoming more commonplace, although we estimate only about five to 10 percent of the municipalities in our area have such a program in place,” he added. “And I’m not sure how often an average home is sold — every seven to 10 years? But this could be a minimum requirement that would drastically reduce the number of sewer lateral problems.”

Metcalfe said a gap remains in cities’ acceptance of trenchless methods for laterals and sewers.

“A further push by the industry to include trenchless methods in building codes will help,” he added. “Many inspectors still resist reducing the inside diameter of the drain lines, even though the flow characteristics often are improved due to the smooth and jointless properties of CIPP pipes.”

The primary issue preventing effective lateral rehabilitation appears to be who is responsible for the laterals. This, in turn, leads to questions as to whether property owners should maintain laterals running through their property or if sewer system owners and operators should maintain portions of lines not on public rights-of-way, and whether a solution can should be involved by legislation and regulation.

How to educate?
The consensus of industry representatives commenting in this report conclude that education is a key in addressing each of these issues. But for lateral rehabilitation to become a priority in efforts to rehabilitate sanitary sewer infrastructure, what must happen?

Kurz has said sewer system operators and municipal governments must make a paradigm shift, a change from one way of thinking to another driven by agents of change.

“Generally, system operators define the lateral problem as one of geography,” Kurz explained. “By that I mean the concern about conducting work on ‘private’ property versus ‘public’ right-of-ways. The point is that leaking or root infested defects in ‘private’ laterals contribute to problems in the entire public sewer system. The cumulative effect may overload the sewers, cause illegal overflows, cause backups and increase the load and costs for operating the wastewater treatment plant.

Kurz said industry associations and trade shows bring information about lateral issues and methods of rehabilitation to industry professionals, citing the Underground Construction Technology Conference (UCT) and the RehabZone at UCT.

“At WEFTEC,” said Kurz, “I saw an example of a hugely-successful public and school education program addressing sewer problems caused by FOG (fats, oil and grease) in Gwinnett, GA. Some of the key people developing that program were educators — teachers. Perhaps someone other than engineers needs to be involved in designing industry educational programs. Attractive graphics in this presentation can be credited to educators providing the creative drive.”

Could such a program be effective with broader lateral issues?

“Most people have no interest in their sewer lateral,” Kurz said. “They know nothing about how sewage is conveyed away from their property — they just pull the chain and expect the system to work. Of course, keeping the system operating is the service aspect of our job. However, ignorance of mechanics involved in the operation of a sewer system means our industry has to do a better job of education to enable the public to make wise decisions that affect the issues we face.”

Legislative mandate needed?
TT Technologies’ Brahler recognizes education is important but believes ultimately legislation will be required to fully address lateral issues.

“I really believe,” said Brahler, “that if the system owners do not take responsibility for laterals and make sure they are rehabilitated or replaced, service providers (contractors, plumbers, etc.) have no incentive to worry about the issue. If there is a demand, the service companies will find a way to satisfy them. Education is important, but unless there are regulations or requirements to force a homeowner or system owner to do something about laterals, they will not do anything.”

Regarding education, Brahler said it is important that such a program be developed by a number of organizations, and to target not only industry groups, but municipal and utility organizations.

“City and municipal building and safety departments need to get into the mix,” Brahler said. “In my opinion, these groups often are an impediment.”

Brahler said line cleaning service companies and plumbers are more proactive than many people realize regarding laterals.

“These are the companies that receive calls from homeowners to remedy the sewer problems,” Brahler said. “Pipebursting and CIPP lining are two techniques that are in wide use by plumbers. The cost of these methods may be daunting at first look, but the market place will adjust, I believe.”

Hoffman Southwest’s Mark Metcalfe said some municipalities are offering incentives for rehabilitating “public” segments of laterals.

“They will reimburse homeowners for the repair of the public side or reimburse up to 50 percent of the cost to rehabilitate the entire line,” said Metcalfe. “Having some money available for the homeowners from the municipalities will help companies such as ours make lateral rehabilitation more reasonable to property owner.”

Another positive factor, said Metcalfe, is that costs of pipebursting and CIPP equipment is becoming more affordable for average plumbing companies, and that is increasing the amount of rehabilitation being done.

Metcalfe believes federal EPA regulations to require cities to have programs for rehabilitation of lateral segments on private property would help. More studies to document the actual amount of I&I and SSOs from failing laterals would be useful in the educational process, he added.

All in this together
Gil Carroll of MaxLiner/Applied Felts, said sewer cleaning specialists and plumbers have much to gain by the education of homeowners about lateral rehabilitation.

“Supporting these businesses with marketing information and arming them with tools to educate homeowners directly is an initiative that we take very seriously,” said Carroll. “Technology for quick, easy and un-intrusive methods for lateral repair needs to reach levels of awareness among property owners at a much higher level. Many times, this is a last minute process as homeowners have to deal with the issue when there are no alternatives and their lateral is past the point of no return. At this point they are at the mercy of the contractor on-site and limited to his expertise and/or commercial interests.”

Organizations such as NASSCO, NASTT, NUCA, WEF and others have the capability to impact the perceptions and understanding of the importance of lateral maintenance, Carroll continued.

“NASSCO, for example, is not a lobbying organization; its mission is to set standards for the rehabilitation of underground pipelines, and laterals are no exception” he said. “This is one case where industry associations can work together to make a difference for the greater good through awareness and education of this problem. While the intended audience for industry associations is cities, contractors and engineers, these associations should consider consumer (property owner) awareness campaigns from a public relations approach.”

Another way to educate and influence is through the building industry.

“Organizations such as the Building Owners and Managers Association as well as the National Association of Realtors could be great allies in this effort,” said Carroll “ICC-ES (ICC Evaluation Service, Inc.), the country’s leader in evaluating products for compliance with building codes, has worked to build awareness and demand of CIPP solutions for laterals and verticals among property owners and managers. Continued acceptance by this industry will work to build awareness for properly maintained laterals overall.”

Finally, all elements in the industry need to work together.
“This is one instance where competition should be thrown out the window,” said Carroll. “It will take all of us – manufacturers, suppliers, associations and others allied with the trenchless industry – to come together to build awareness among property owners and municipalities. The bottom line is that there is plenty of opportunity for all of us to succeed; however, in order to get there we must all come together to build the high levels of awareness necessary to initiate change.”

NASSCO, (410) 486-3500,
Hoffman Southwest Corp.,(800) 784-7473,
Barge Waggoner Sumner & Cannon Inc., (615) 252-4441,
MaxLiner, (276) 656-1225,
TT Technologies, (800) 533-2078,

NASSCO And Lateral Rehabilitation
NASSCO — the National Association of Sewer Service Companies — and its members have a vital interest in opening the way for restoring the nation’s sanitary sewer lateral infrastructure. NASSCO Executive Director Ted DeBoda and Gerry Muenchmeyer, NASSCO technical director, offered the following observations as an addendum to this article:

As more municipalities and utilities make improvements to their sanitary sewer collection systems in the name of reducing I&I, we will further begin to understand that private property is a significant source of extraneous flows to the system. In addition to normal lateral pipe infiltration, flows will increase after main lines are repaired and groundwater migrates to the lateral pipe. In addition to flows from lateral pipes, system owners will also need to address the impact of roof drains, broken cleanout caps acting as area drains, and sump pump connections. Whether these issues are addressed by local regulations requiring private lateral pipe owners to make corrections, public capital improvement funding, or some combination of the two, assessment of private property pipes will be more common in the future.

NASSCO will continue to assist the industry by providing the Laterals Assessment & Certification Program, a standardized approach to lateral assessment based on the highly successful Pipe Assessment & Certification Program. And like PACP, this program will focus on gathering useful and appropriate data that can be used to program the most cost effective asset repair, replacement and rehabilitation plan. NASSCO currently provides a number of specification guidelines for lateral renewal and repair, and may establish performance based specifications sometime in the future. NASSCO also provides the Inspector Training and Certification Program for CIPP which includes not only the inspection of mainlines but also lateral pipes.

Finally, NASSCO will continue to actively participate in educating municipalities and utilities of the impact of private lateral sewer problems and potential corrective actions that are being implemented by others in the industry. Such training is valuable not only to collection system operators and managers, but to politicians and the public, who will need to write the regulations and/or provide for the finances necessary for lateral sewer maintenance and repair in the future.

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