City urges residents to think before the flush

Published on Wed, Feb 12, 2014 by Brandy Kiger Shreve

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If you’re flushing baby wipes, Clorox wipes or anything other than toilet paper down the drain, you should reconsider what you’re doing.

The small squares of fabric (along with a variety of other non-flushable items such as vinyl gloves and rags) have been tying knots in the city of Blaine’s sewer system over the past few months and city officials are trying to determine exactly where the system-plugging items are coming from.

“It’s a problem,” said public works director Ravyn Whitewolf. “People aren’t aware that just because it can be flushed down the toilet, it doesn’t mean it necessarily should be flushed.” She said it’s important to note that even if an item fits down the drain or is labeled biodegradable on the package, it doesn’t automatically guarantee it will pass through the intricately designed piping system and pumping stations that lead to the water reclamation facility.

“[People flush them] all the time, but they don’t realize that these kind of items can cause a [pump station] motor to seize,” Whitewolf said, noting that the Birch Bay Water and Sewer District sees similar offenders clogging their system on a regular basis. “And while we have an equalization plan at Lighthouse Point to allow for shutdown if [a motor seizes] there, these items can cause a pump station to stop working,” and, in a worst case scenario, cause the sewer lines to back up and flow down the street from a manhole. 

There are several pump and lift stations throughout the city that help facilitate the movement of the non-pressurized sewer contents from homes to the water reclamation facility on Marine Drive where it is treated. 

Whitewolf said when a pump station stops working, they have to shut that station down and physically take it apart to get to the problem. 

“It’s taking staff away from other things they could be doing,” she said, and the extra hours those staff are working to fish out these problem materials could ultimately result in higher bills for sewer users. 

“We’re trying to keep rates from going up and be good partners with the community and prevent these issues from happening,” she said, adding that the city will continue to investigate the problem. 

Whitewolf said the city would appreciate any information that might lead them to the source of the problem.

To contact Whitewolf, call 360/332-8820.