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Friday, March 28, 2008

Ever Wonder About Your City’s Sewer System?

I decided to write an article for the City's newsletter. I like it and think it's fun, so I'm posting it here. If you have time, let me know what you think.

The feedback I've gotten so far is that the story is not as good as my skunk story, but that's okay. I'm kinda partial to my skunk story :)

Grease! Not the Musical

Imagine this. You are washing a load of clothes when suddenly filthy water, which stinks to the high heavens, starts bubbling out of the sink drains in the kitchen and bathroom. It fills the sinks and overflows onto the floors, and it occurs to you that there may be no way to stop it.

Or perhaps, you are standing in the shower, relaxing under the hot water, possibly thinking about the great book you just got done reading or a day filled with watching basketball championships. Suddenly you notice that the water is not draining as it regularly does. Instead, the tub is filling up with a gray substance for which you have no explanation. Higher and higher it climbs, until it is hanging around your calves, the scent of the water so horrific that your number one priority just became jumping the tub ledge to escape the bathroom.

The likely cause? A sewer back-up.

Now, before you go grab the pitch-forks and light the torches to come after me for this seemingly unnecessary disgusting picture I've just painted in your head, let me explain.

It was several years ago when I first received a call from one of the public works employees telling me that they were going to be unavailable for an hour or so to clean out a grease plug in the sewer system. I made a mental note of it, and then went about my day. A few months later, another call, another grease plug, and again, a mental note. It took about three of these mental notes before I started wondering to myself what exactly a grease plug was and what it had to do with the sewer system.

Then, with brutal force, it hit me like a ton of bricks.

It happened the night my husband and I made a roast. Perhaps not the leanest of meats I could have chosen, there was a lot of water and grease left over in the pan. To rid ourselves of this excess, we did what I would imagine most people do and washed it down the sink. It was in that moment, as I watched the grease dissolve and flow with the hot water to the drain, what it meant to have a grease plug. From there, my mind raced. Mental image after mental image filtered through my head until finally, I was forced to either learn to shower with the speed of light or change my ways.


The sewer system is a connection of pipes that run from your house to the lagoons via a system of pipes located underground. In most circumstances, the pipe connected to your house is 4-inches in diameter, which is connected to a pipe in the street that is approximately 8-inches in diameter. To put this in better perspective, the short length of a piece of notebook paper is the diameter of the mainline, while half of it is the diameter of the pipe connected to your house.

Most effluent that travels into and down these pipes is water. The water comes from us taking showers, washing dishes, and doing laundry. Only a small portion is actually solid waste. Under normal circumstances, the amount of water that travels down the sewer system is plenty to clear out any solids that also travel along the same route, but the concern is not the normal emission—it is the abnormal.

Some items, such as toilet paper, are made in such a way as to break down almost instantly in water, but others, such as baby wipes, paper towels, or cleaning wipes, are not. A huge wad of these could become problematic if they get stuck somewhere down the line. Or perhaps, consider the list to the right of this article. It lists some of the more interesting items that the public works department has found while repairing or fixing various aspects of the City's sewer system. Any of these numerous items, if positioned incorrectly, could cause some serious backup in the pipes, creating a most unpleasant situation.

Now let's go back to the grease plug, which is unfortunately something that happens altogether too often for my comfort level.

Grease comes in many varieties and forms. There is the grease that comes bottled, such as vegetable oil, there is the grease that comes in tubs, such as lard, and there is the grease that comes naturally with meat. Grease that starts solid and cools solid is the biggest troublemaker.

Grease can be a deceptive monster. Although most often done in small amounts, and usually via dishwater or garbage disposal, it is sent down the sewer in liquid form. The heat of the water melting it into a liquid that cannot be seen as anything more than an oily sheen, it travels down the drains into the pipes on its way to the main system. Unfortunately, along the way, the water cools down and the grease coagulates, forming a mass that attracts more mass, which attracts more mass, until eventually it finds something to cling too, such as a wad of rags or other solids. The bigger the mass gets, the more difficult it becomes to flush it down the pipes, until it becomes an obstruction.

This obstruction blocks all water from passing through and the pipes start filling. Once the pipe is filled, the water starts looking for places to break out, and usually, the only place for it to come out, is going to be via the drains in your house.

So the next time you are ready to wash that pot of old stew down the drain, or flush that baby wipe, remember your neighbors and the delicacy of the sewer system—because the sewer that comes back to haunt you, may not be your own.

Top 10 Most Interesting Things Found In the Sewer

Cell Phones
Hot Wheels with strings tied to them.
Rubber Hoses

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

God and Coffee

I think God likes coffee. Either that, or in His infinite wisdom, he was trying to give me a message... that I needed coffee today!

I am the person that looks upwards at every green light and says a little prayer of gratitude. Always five or ten minutes late, green lights are a little gift from Heaven. But even so, it is rare that I am blessed with more than a few on any given morning.

Today, however, was different.

Today, I overslept. I left the house five minutes late, questioning my decision to value coffee above arriving at work on time. I pulled out onto my street, made the two turns to get to the light, and pulled up expecting to have to wait for a king's age.

Didn't happen. I pulled up and was immediately able to pull onto the Highway. No traffic. As a matter of fact, there was no traffic all the way to the coffee shop AND I hit EVERY green light. It took half the time to get there than normal.

When I arrived, it occurred to me that God must be sending me a message-- that I needed coffee today. I even had a freebie coming, which made my Sugar-Free Vanilla Latte that much sweeter.

So, after getting it and pulling from the coffee shop... I hit every red light and bumper to bumper traffic, which I thought was rather interesting.

God sending me two messages perhaps? 1) I need coffee. 2) I shouldn't go to work.

Something to ponder, I think. Or perhaps, just one more instance where He is showing me how much of a sense of humor he has when it comes to my life.