Defend Your Drains to prevent costly blockages

Keeping our wastewater system free of blockages is the main goal of the Defend Your Drains North Texas campaign.  Created by Dallas Water Utilities, the campaign is an educational effort that encourages residents to properly dispose of items that can harm a home’s plumbing system, the region’s wastewater treatment systems, and water quality.

Wastewater blockages are typically caused by rags, wipes, paper towels, feminine hygiene products, food, and fats, oils, and greases poured down drains or flushed down toilets. These materials can collect in sewers lines and wastewater treatment plants creating blockages that may trigger a sanitary sewer overflow (SSO). The resulting SSO could create hazardous environmental impacts that must be cleaned up and mitigated. The program also focuses on the proper disposal of medicines, cleaning supplies, paint, and pesticides that pollute our water system.

Baby wipes and so-called “flushable” wipes for adults are the biggest culprits of blockages. Most wipes packages claim that wipes are flushable, but flushable is not the same as biodegradable. Toilet paper is designed to degrade quickly in water, rapidly breaking up into tiny particles. Wipes generally stay intact for days, or even weeks, after flushing and cause significant damage to our wastewater system. Check out this demonstration by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency that shows the difference between wipes and toilet paper in water:

Three years ago, NTMWD had to shut down operations at the Muddy Creek Wastewater Treatment plant in order to remove a six-foot ball of wipes that had clogged pumps at the plant. To remove the giant rag ball, divers and heavy equipment had to be utilized, and the lift station had to be shut down during the removal operation. There was no SSO associated with this corrective action, but there could have been if flow conditions had been different. This is an example of how small wipes collect and can cause a huge plug, wreaking havoc on wastewater collection and treatment systems. More recently, we experienced a blockage resulting in an SSO at the Squabble Creek plant in Rockwall and a temporary shutdown of the Spring Creek lift station in Richardson.

Every day, our wastewater operators work diligently to remove wipes from our screens at the treatment plants. Blockages increase operational costs and can lead to costly fines, which must be passed on to ratepayers.

Blockage removed from Muddy Creek WWTP in 2014.

A diver prepares to go into the wet well to help dislodge the blockage of wipes.