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Engineer repeats message: “Stop flushing baby wipes”
Items that should not be flushed into Cotulla’s sewer system continue causing blockages and damage to wastewater lift stations, and in most cases the situation is preventable, according to the city’s utility engineer.
David Wright addressed the city council again this month and was supported by wastewater department chief Jimmy Oranday in renewing a plea to the community, asking residents to stop flushing non-soluble items down their toilets.
Wright and Oranday found an ally in the public messaging at the September 9 city council meeting, when Councilor Reynaldo Garcia said he hopes to enlist the help of his students in sending the message to local families. Garcia is a teacher at Cotulla High School and told councilors this month that he believes the cause is community-minded and worthy of attention.
At issue is the volume of non-soluble material being flushed into the city’s sewer system, according to both Wright and Oranday, who said that so-called baby wipes are chief among the causes for routine blockage of sewer pumps and lift stations.
“We can take pictures when we clean out the pumps,” Oranday told Garcia, “and show what damage is done.”
“We can also take before-and-after pictures, a month apart,” City Administrator Larry Dovalina said in support of the effort to increase community awareness through the school. “We can visit the class and give updates, help the students get the word out, and provide Power Point presentations to give more information.”
A burgeoning problem of sewer line blockage due to non-soluble items was first brought to the city council’s attention earlier this year and again in August, when Wright and Oranday said they believe damages may be reduced through installation of bar screens and other devices that may prevent items from fouling the lift station pumps or reaching the wastewater treatment plant.
Councilor Garcia indicated at the August meeting that he believes many local residents have been misled by product packaging into believing baby wipes and paper-based towelettes are flushable.
Wright and Oranday said the volume of non-soluble material being flushed into the city’s sewers has caused thousands of dollars in damage, as pumps require replacing.
Dovalina has indicated that City Hall will consider distributing flyers among utility service customers to help increase awareness of the problem and to ask residents to stop flushing non-soluble items into the sewer system.
Wright told councilors last month that syringes have also been found blocking lift station pumps and other parts of the sewer system.