Case Study

The Truth About Clogged Pumps

The Truth About Clogged Pumps

By Kevin Bates, Global Marketing Director, JWC Environmental

The sky is blue, grass is green, and, someday, your pumps are going to clog. It’s just another fact of life — or is it? 

Clogged pumps in wastewater systems is every operator’s worry, holding up operations and requiring a messy and disruptive maintenance call to clear the clog. All types of locations — from municipal collections and private lift stations to small ejector pumps and large pump station facilities — can be plagued by dreaded clogs

This problem is not a new one, but with higher concentration of disposable wipes in today’s sewage it has reached a crisis level in many locations. Congested pumps, often choked with wipes and debris, were once the everyday reality for a nursing home in Michigan, a municipal pump station in California and a prison in Las Vegas. After incorporating a grinder into their systems, the operators for all three facilities can now tell you they’ve discovered the truth — clogged pumps do not have to be a fact of life.

An Age-Old Solution in Michigan  

From the health and safety of every resident and staff member to the daily task of maintaining a sprawling facility – running a nursing home is a demanding job. While managers spend their days attending to resident and staff concerns, the pipes beneath their feet face the challenge of handling a new kind of sewage.

Disposable cleaning products, “flushable” hygienic wipes and disinfecting wipes are the go-to for many nursing home facilities. In a small Michigan township, a nursing home was sending flushable wipes and adult diapers into the local city sewer system and clogging sewer pipes – quickly causing manholes to pop-off and raw sewage to start flowing into the street.

“In one instance the line plugged and it flooded some nearby homes,” said Jason Gwinn of Gwinn Brothers Construction, the contractor hired to resolve the plumbing issues. “Worse, the nursing home had to pay to clean-up the mess. The township asked them to install a sewer grinder.”

After discussing the problem with local sewer officials, a Monster 3-HYDRO sewage grinder from JWC Environmental was purchased and installed inside a manhole. The powerful dual-shafted grinder uses slow-speed, high-torque power to slice through wipes, rags, disposable diapers and other trash and turn it into small particles that flow harmlessly through sewer pumps and pipelines.

According to a nursing home facility manager, a sewage grinder is a preferred solution for wastewater problems since the grinder is easy to install, requires little to no maintenance, is proven to be reliable in thousands of installations and solves sewer debris problems once and for all. “I never knew something like these sewer grinders existed,” said Gwinn. “The nursing home is very happy with it.”

Moo-ving Wipes Along In California

When the Santa Margarita Water District was formed in 1964 by a group of ranchers who wanted a reliable water source for their cattle, the district served more cows than people. The area has since grown to more than 150,000 homes and businesses, and the SMWD maintains more than 1,200 miles of water and sewer lines across a 62,674 acre service area.

Built in 1977, the reclaimed water facility was initially intended to provide water for landscape irrigation in the district. During a typical 12-month period today, the facility brings in 680 million gallons of sewage and sends out 620 gallons of reclaimed water. Originally, the facility relied on a mechanically-cleaned bar screen to remove debris from the waste system. Over time, safer, more reliable solutions came on the market, and the bar screen was replaced by a CMD single-drum Channel Monster® from JWC Environmental that would shred debris before it reached the pumps, preventing clogs or damage.

Ron Johnson, facilities supervisor for the SMWD facility, said pump clogging hadn’t been an issue since the Channel Monster was installed in the ‘90s — until 2012, when the composition of the influent became heavily loaded with disposable wipes. “The pumps would begin to lose efficiency as the wipes loading increased and we would have to run all four pumps to maintain plant production,” said Johnson. “Once they reached 60 Hz we would need to shut down the plant to derag the pumps.”

The deragging process started to become necessary every two to six weeks, requiring two operators for about two hours each time to complete the task. “And due to some aging isolation valves that leaked, the plant needed to be entirely shut down during deragging,” Johnson says. These unplanned shutdowns were costing the district an acre-foot of reclaimed water production per month, and the labor costs added up to about $15,000 per year.

“We considered changing out the current pumps to a new set of chopper pumps, but this option came with a $100,000 price tag,” said Johnson. “We still needed to maintain our inlet Channel Monster to take care of the larger debris the pumps couldn’t handle. Johnson ultimately decided to upgrade the facility’s Channel Monster to a new Wipes Ready perforated drum configuration.

The Wipes Ready perforated drum on the newest generation of Channel Monsters was designed to better capture the wipes and rags that can pass through traditional coil drums. “This upgrade cost significantly less than purchasing a whole new set of pumps,” Johnson says. “Plus, this is a reliable, long-term solution.” Since the new Channel Monster drums were installed, the district has had zero pump-clogging issues at the facility, and has returned to using two pumps at a time instead of all four. Pumping energy costs have decreased $78,000 per year and manual pump deragging has been eliminated.

Locking Up Pump Clogs in Las Vegas Sewer  

Inmates at the Clark County Detention Center (CCDC) use their toilets as trash cans, flushing everything from t-shirts, shoes, books and blankets down into the sewer system. When the City of Las Vegas Water Pollution Control Facility (WPCF) showed Lloyd Noffsinger and Carlos Goodin, CCDC Maintenance Assistant, a picture of a bright orange jail-issue shirt emblazoned with ‘CCDC’ in their headworks, it was a clear indication that they needed to install grinders.

The first Muffin Monster grinder from JWC Environmental, positioned underground between the booking building and parking structure, successfully reduced wastewater solids. CCDC installed five more. As Noffsinger noted, “There is little to no maintenance, only yearly checks on the cutter wear and torque, required to keep the grinders running smoothly and clog-free.” One of the most unique points about the facility is the “creative” grinder installations it requires.

Since the building expansion only allowed for one grinder, CCDC had to find space to install additional ones. Three grinders are underground, one is installed horizontally in a narrow closet, a larger grinder is mounted on a steel support five feet off the ground, and, the most interesting — a grinder suspended from the ceiling in the laundry area. Four of the grinders process wastewater from specific areas, and all the grinders are equipped with their own PLC control panel. The grinders, in all their unusual locations, are put to work shredding those flushed orange jumpsuits, and the facility no longer fields calls asking how a jumpsuit ended up in the influent at the WPCF.

A New Reality

Pump clogs do not need to be accepted as one of the expected perils of wastewater.  There are proven technologies that eliminate this hazard for operators, residents and the general public.  Whether installed in a manhole, in line with a pump or even hanging from the ceiling, a grinder can ensure that your facility no longer considers clogged pumps a “fact of life.”