Down with those drains

West Allis uses MMSD money to reduce flow into sanitary sewers

Aug. 20, 2012

West Allis - With the outcry over huge sewage dumps in 2010 still ringing in its ears, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District is helping West Allis to the tune of $730,000 to help keep those dumps from happening again.

Most of the money will be used to help the city's ample supply of older homes disconnect foundation drains that are directly hooked into sanitary sewers.

MMSD also is helping other communities, but West Allis has been aggressive in getting and using MMSD funding, said Jerome Flogel, senior project manager of the MMSD's private property inflow and infiltration reduction program.

The problem in 2010 was two 500-year storms slamming into the area back-to-back, Flogel said. The heavy rains overwhelmed the sewage system, which was forced to dump millions of gallons of diluted raw sewage into Lake Michigan and surrounding rivers.

MMSD believes the main problem was that the rain that soaked into the ground found its way into cracks in sanitary sewer pipes and sewer laterals and rushed toward already-full sewage treatment facilities.

Outdated drain system

But to a smaller extent, water has also found its way into sanitary sewers in ways that can more easily be prevented.

MMSD officials say rain also poured in from the foundation drains of older homes connected directly to sanitary sewers - connections that were legal prior to 1954.

West Allis officials figure about half the homes in the city are connected directly to sanitary sewers. That's why West Allis was a prime candidate for MMSD funding to disconnect those drains.

So next month, residents of portions of 75th and 76th streets will get to have their foundation drains disconnected from their sanitary sewer laterals and get free sump pumps with separate laterals to take rainwater out to storm sewers in the streets. The homes were built before 1954, said Joseph Burtch, assistant city engineer specializing in sanitary and storm sewers.

The area was chosen for a $430,000 MMSD grant because it is located in a basin where a lot of rain gets into the sewers and because a street project is planned there, Burtch said.

The grant to the city will cover only 55 properties, out of the roughly 8,000 homes in the city with foundation drains that are likely connected to sanitary sewers. Burtch said he hopes all homeowners in the city will opt for the sump pumps because they may eventually become mandatory.

But more than that, if all the homeowners pull together it will eliminate sewer backups, he said. The worst case of a backup that he knows of is that of a 76th Street resident who said the backup of diluted sewage was up to the top basement step, Burtch said.

Additional funding

A separate project that used $300,000 in MMSD money is currently wrapping up, as well.

The project area is a portion of 56th Street from National Avenue north to the city limits. Again it involved disconnecting foundation drains of pre-1954 homes from sanitary sewers and installing free sump pumps for those participating.

Unlike the planned 75th-76th street work, the 56th Street project allows the sump pumps to discharge directly into yards that were big enough to absorb the flow, Burtch said. Stormwater laterals aren't needed.

The program also included lining sanitary sewer laterals so that rain doesn't get into them.

In forging ahead with these two projects, West Allis will be a beacon for other communities, MMSD's Flogal says.

"They've learned a lot, and their successes we can share with the other municipalities," Flogel said.

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