Above: The EI Toro Water District wastewater treatment facility serves 50,000 customers in Southern California. Right: ETWD supervisor Ed Peterson, left, and crew member Ty Banagas lower the mainline camera into a manhole for an inspection. Photos: Pearpoint Inc.

Southern California's El Toro Water District (ETWD) boasts a customer base of more than 50,000, 135 miles of sewer pipelines, and its own 5 mgd water-recycling facility. An in-house crew—headed by collection systems supervisor Ralph Palomares—handles all routine maintenance of the sewage collection system.

The agency purchased a closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera system from Pearpoint Inc., Thousand Palms, Calif., in 1987 and has been adding inspection technology ever since. In 1999, it acquired a custom-built, mainline inspection vehicle with a Pearpoint P494 pan/tilt camera, P420 tractor, and flexidata pipe reporting software from PipeLogix in Palm Desert, Calif., to survey their system and document its integrity. The inspection team aimed to complete 2500 feet of CCTV filming and 4000 feet of hydrocleaning per work day. The crew planned the work carefully but did not anticipate the number of problems the camera would uncover.

“We knew the camera was going to create work for us—we just didn't realize how much,” said Palomares. As cleaning and inspection progressed, the agency documented nearly 300 needed repairs, which were scheduled over time based on rating and grade documented on the CCTV surveys.

Publicly owned ETWD answers to a regional water-quality control board, local health departments, and environmental agencies. It also reports to both the Santa Ana and San Diego regional water boards, which are issuing mandates to all sewer and sanitary agencies for sewer system inspection and documentation.

ETWD's operators are key to its success. As Palomares said, “Without a camera and well-trained operator, you are blind.” Operators receive ongoing training for the care, maintenance, and operation of equipment to achieve optimum performance.

With the newly realized efficiency, the agency was able to outsource cleaning and inspection to the neighboring Santa Margarita Water District (SMWD). This mutually beneficial arrangement enhanced ETWD revenues and allowed SMWD to meet sewer-maintenance production goals without immediate increases in staff or equipment investment.

Half of the crew's work days in a month are devoted to ongoing maintenance of ETWD's system, with the balance contracted to SMWD. Santa Margarita's collection system is composed primarily of PVC pipe; ETWD's system is 99% vitrified clay pipe. At the onset, hilly terrain and grease in the area made traction difficult, and the crew achieved runs of just 200 feet. An ETWD staff member created special wheels for the camera tractor; once these wheels were fitted, 1000-foot runs became easy. To date, ETWD's crew has completed 1 million feet of CCTV inspection between the two agencies' systems.

Customer response has been positive. Rate payers are seeing savings, and the work to date has covered the cost of the equipment, allowing ETWD to continue to upgrade its equipment and crew training. One of the strongest selling advantages is ETWD's commitment to staying on technology's cutting edge. It recently shifted from tape to digital video, and the agency uses flexidata software for collecting data and creating survey reports. Information is transferred from the field computer to disks that are kept in a library and on the mainframe computer for universal access.

The inspection and cleaning program is part of ETWD's efforts to eliminate sanitary sewer overflows. Palomares and his team received second-place recognition for Best Small Collection System at the California Water Environment Association annual conference last April. The crew is aspiring for first place in 2006.

Suzan Chin is director of marketing for Pearpoint Inc.