How the Sewer System Works

Abilene City ScapeThe sewer system - it's as unpleasant as it sounds, but serves an important function. Even though the sewer works way better today than in the past, it's not foolproof. Both residents, the city and businesses contribute to the health and longevity of a sewer in order for it to function properly.

Over 650 Miles of Pipes Connect in Abilene's Sewer System

Before we discuss how to maintain our sewer system, let's go over how it works. The water and sewer systems work similarly to our veins and arteries. Clean water comes from the water treatment plant through a pipe system. The pipes get smaller as they branch off to different areas of town and ultimately to individual homes and businesses. After the water is used, it is called wastewater. 

The wastewater drains into a separate pipe system called the sanitary sewer. As the sewer collects more and more wastewater, the pipes get larger as they transport the wastewater to the wastewater treatment plant.

Sewer Overflows

A sanitary sewer overflow occurs whenever a sewer pipe gets clogged and sewage backs up through the path of least resistance. That could be outside from a manhole or it could burst through a weak spot in the pipe. It could also be inside through a bathtub, sink, dishwasher, etc. What most people don't realize is that the sewer system doesn't just carry away waste from the toilet, it carries away anything that goes down any drain in our homes and businesses. 

Sinks, floor drains, washing machines, dishwashers, showers - they all drain to the sanitary sewer. So if the sewer gets clogged, sewage could back up through any of these sources and create a huge mess.

Preventing Sewer Backups

In order to prevent sanitary sewer overflows, we need to do our part to take care of Abilene's sewer system by not putting things down the drain that should go in the trash. The number one cause of sanitary sewer overflows in Abilene is grease, which coats the inside of pipes just like it does in a vein or artery. When the pipe eventually gets clogged, the sanitary sewer overflow is the equivalent of a heart attack.

Leftover grease and cooking oil should be cooled, poured or scraped into a disposable container and put in the trash, as well as greasy foods, not the garbage disposal. Just like your doctor cannot run the little balloon through every single one of your veins and arteries to unclog them, our sewer department cannot clean out every single pipe underneath our city. There are more than 650 miles of sewer pipe in Abilene! We have to do our part to maintain our sewer system!

Tips for Drains, Dishwashers, & Garbage Disposals

Food preparation in a complex of apartments, townhome and condo units creates a grease problem. Multiple kitchens, sinks and drains are in close proximity. All that grease hits a bottleneck when it connects the building's plumbing to city pipes.

Some renters may think, "It's not my house, so it's not my problem" - but it becomes their problem when wastewater overflows into their apartment. Personal property can be destroyed and their home becomes temporarily uninhabitable. When clogs and overflows happen, repairs can't be made without shutting off water to the entire building or area, causing headaches for every resident.

If every resident in a large complex were to allow just a teaspoon of grease to enter the pipes each week, it would all add up to a very serious problem.

Drain Clogs Are Worse for Multifamily Units

For tenants, plumbing backups aren't just inconvenient - they can also cause flooding that can destroy personal possessions in your own apartment and your neighbors'. Multiple floors for condo and apartment buildings are common even in a city as flat as Abilene.

Many residents are surprised to find that a drain clog is their responsibility, even damage that happens in neighboring units. If your condo or apartment is the source for a clogged drain that floods the entire floor below, you are liable for the damage.

Renter's insurance and condo insurance policies typically exclude damage caused by sewer overflow and drain backups.