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Flushable wipes causing problems in Thiensville sewers

New campaign dubbed 'Keep wipes out of pipes'

Jan. 9, 2013

Thiensville - A discussion about the village's 2013 sewer utility budget morphed into a concern about items clogging the system and causing an all-around unsightly situation at a meeting Monday.

Andy LaFond, director of public works, said the village has been grappling with so-called flushable wipes - which, as it turns out, might be flushable but do not necessarily flow through the village sanitary sewer system with the ease of other materials, such as human waste and traditional toilet paper.

The end result could be a village-wide campaign that has tentatively been dubbed, "Keep wipes out of the pipes."

On average, LaFond said, DPW staff members routinely remove six to eight 5-gallon buckets of flushable wipes each week at the village's lift station where discharge is gathered before being funneled out to the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District's system.

"What happens is (the wipes) get stuck in pumps at the lift station because they haven't been broken down," LaFond said. "We'll have alarms go off, and we need to address them. Basically, it clogs up our system."

Wipes take longer to degrade

While marketing materials state the wipes - used by some consumers as an alternative to traditional toilet paper - can be flushed down a toilet, the material takes considerably longer to degrade.

Trustee John Treffert said he ran an experiment, placing a flushable wipe in water. He said it took three days for it to begin breaking down.

"I think it's become a big problem, and it could end up costing us money," Treffert said. "Property owners should be concerned as well because it could clog their own laterals."

One possible remedy could be some type of grinder mechanism at the lift station that would break down materials such as the wipes. But it would come at a cost to the village.

LaFond said Thiensville is not the only municipality contending with the flushable wipe dilemma. At Monday's meeting, he showed a video from a Vancouver, Wash., TV newscast that chronicled similar challenges from officials in that community.

Trustee Kim Beck said he believed the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources should weigh in on the issue.

"This is the kind of thing they should be taking up," Beck said. "This is absurd."

Rates should stay the same

As for the sewer budget itself, the village will likely adopt a status-quo document for 2013. Officials say most taxpayers should pay the same this year as what was paid in 2012.

The $836,930 budget includes an annual $552 user charge for residents ($138 per quarter). Businesses pay a variable rate based on size, but Village Administrator Dianne Robertson said the amount should be comparable, year-to-year, if a business has not grown.

Acting as a Committee of the Whole, the Village Board on Monday tentatively approved the sewer budget. Final action will be taken at the next regular board meeting at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 21.

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