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New Berlin officials considering tests to track down leaky sewer systems

April 30, 2014

New Berlin — To help keep rainwater from getting into sewers and overwhelming sewage treatment facilities resulting in dumping diluted sewage into lakes and rivers, New Berlin officials are considering voluntary testing to find leaky private sewer laterals that let rainwater in.

Sewer laterals take waste water from homes and businesses to sanitary sewers in the streets. The sewers then take sewage to treatment plants.

The city has tightened its sewer system so that now the biggest source of rainwater entering the sanitary sewers is private property, mainly homes and industrial. The vast majority of clear water that got into sanitary sewers came from private property in a dye testing study done last year in six areas in New Berlin.

As an example, a test of the residential Honey Lane East area in northeast New Berlin showed that 99 percent of infiltrating rainwater came from private properties.

The city is already working on the leaks remaining in the public sewer system, itself, but the lion's share of water now comes from private property, the study shows.

The question is who will pay for fixing the leaky private laterals, once they're found. That's something the Utility Committee will have to decide. Money is available from the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District to cover some of the cost.

One possibility is that work would only be done until the MMSD money runs out. It is unclear, however, how much an impact it would make. Another possibility is asking residents to shoulder a share of the cost of fixing their own laterals. Normally, laterals are viewed as the owners responsibility.

But for either of these options to work, the city must not be heavy-handed.

"If you threaten people, who's going to want to get their system tested?" asked New Berlin Mayor Dave Ament. "The intent isn't to strong-arm people into spending a lot of money.

MMSD is offering help because it wants to stop dumping diluted sewage, Ament said.

"Obviously, it should be addressed," he said. "If they are willing to help us, then why wouldn't we do that?"

A potentially stickier problem is that of sump pumps being connected to sanitary sewers so that rain water is actually pumped directly into sewers.

Sump pump connections and other illegal connections to the sewers could be contributing to the clear water problem, R.A. Smith National, the consultant that did the dye study of the six areas, surmised.

Recognizing the problem of runoff from homes getting into sanitary sewers, West Allis now offers residents in targeted areas free sump pumps, if they let the city disconnect their drain tiles from the sewers. The voluntary program is paid for with money from the MMSD.

While West Allis estimates its costs at $2,000 to $4,000 per home, New Berlin would likely just have to disconnect sump pumps from sewers and redirect the flows, so the cost would be less, James Hart, utilities department manager, said to the committee recently.

Regrouping sewer laterals would run from $2,000 to $4,000 and relining laterals from $4,000 to $10,000 per home, he said in a report to the committee.

where does the water come from?

Area studiedGallons leaked per minute into sewers% from private property% from public system
Regal Manor LS3306931
Honey Lane East198991
Honey Lane West150946
Woodshire1133961
Buena Park1018911
Industrial Park767921

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