Launch Slideshow

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Sucking in the Savings

Sucking in the Savings

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    Operators visit each vacuum station daily to check the charts, meters, and gauges. This monitoring equipment allows the operator to easily identify and locate any problem that may occur. Photos: Airvac

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    The valve pit is easily accessible and designed so operators don't come in contact with raw sewage. No special tools are required, not even rubber gloves.

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    Sewer statsTwo-thirds of Cedar Grove's homes — 3,000 — are on a gravity sewer system and the rest are on a vacuum sewer system, giving public works ample opportunity to compare the performance of the two.

Cedar Grove is located just a couple of miles inland of the Gulf of Mexico. As you'd expect, we get several major storms every year and the occasional hurricane.

Every storm presents the possibility of an electrical power outage, which can be disastrous. The loss of power shuts down the lift and the vacuum stations. Gravity sewer lines quickly back up into homes and businesses creating a public health — and public relations — nightmare. We have to shuttle portable generators between the lift stations to keep the gravity system functioning.

Not so in our vacuum system, where a permanent generator located at each vacuum station keeps them running. Furthermore, vacuum sewers are closed systems so rainwater can't infiltrate the lines.

When electrical power is lost, nearly all of our staff is dedicated to keeping the gravity system running. With the vacuum system, the only thing we have to do is keep gasoline in the generator.

MAKING THE CHANGE

Public works directors who have no experience with vacuum technology may think that vacuum sewers are complex systems that require years of specialized training to maintain.

Not so. We recently assigned a new hire to service our vacuum sewer system. Within a week he was handling daily maintenance schedules by himself; and after a week of specialized hands-on training he was handling nearly all aspects of repair and service.

As with all systems, parts occasionally wear out and sometimes mains are damaged. Replacing components is easy, largely because the system is amazingly simple and offers easy access to the valve pits, vacuum station, and vacuum mains. Repairs typically take minutes and the component parts are relatively inexpensive.

Vacuum sewer technology is safe, efficient, reliable, and simple to operate and maintain. We hope to expand our vacuum system soon (that's easy, as well), so our department will become even more cost-effective. For topographic conditions like we have along the coast, vacuum sewers are by far the best option for sewage collection.

—Thomas Voght is public works director for Cedar Grove, Fla. Reach him at thomas@cedargrovefl.com.

Web Extra

For a diagram of how a vacuum system works, visit the “article links” page undernder “resources” at www.pwmag.com.