August 30, 2011Up until 2004, fats, oils and grease (FOG) were wreaking havoc on the City of Griffin, Ga.’s, underground infrastructure. Forming thick layers inside its sewers and constricting flow, FOG were causing many sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs), which resulted in costly fines from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD), as well as expensive cleanup costs.
What was happening to the City of Griffin is not unlike what is happening to many cities in North America. But in the case here, FOG-related SSOs are a problem of the past. To correct the problem and make its sewer system stronger and more efficient, the City of Griffin developed a program to reduce FOG and resulting SSOs, thereby saving the budget-conscious city money from fines and costly repairs. The program’s success is a combination of pipe cleaning and inspections and education of the public and local businesses.
The FOG program for the City of Griffin was put into place in 2004 and just one year later, quantitative results could be documented. By 2011, SSOs are down to 1 or fewer at each of the city’s four basins (down by nine in some cases), and through preventative pipe cleaning and camera inspections, the pipes were cleaner.
“We have minimal problems with SSOs since the FOG program was implemented,” said Doug White, FOG compliance program coordinator for the City of Griffin, who calculated that the city is savings approximately $50,000 annually since the program was implemented. That cost includes fines, cleanup costs and man-hours.
About the City
Located just south of Atlanta, the City of Griffin has a population of approximately 23,500 and is the county seat of Spalding County. The City has been treating and distributing finished water since the 1890s and its sewer system was constructed during the 1920s. Today, the City provides drinking water regionally to 80,000 people living in the City of Griffin, the City of Williamson, Spalding County, the City of Zebulon in Pike County, Coweta County, Lamar County and Butts County. The City is also owner and operator of three wastewater treatment plants and has been in business since the 1930s, servicing all of the City of Griffin and portions of Spalding County or approximately 30,000 customers.
The city has 696 miles of water lines and 224 miles of gravity sewer lines. The sewer lines are a combination of vitrified clay (in the older sections of the system) and PVC. “Overall, the sewer system is in fair shape,” said James Beasley, deputy director of water and wastewater.
The problems associated with FOG date back to more than a decade. Prior to its FOG program, White said that, on average, the City was picking up fines between $6,000 and $15,000 a year from the Georgia EPD due to FOG-related SSOs. “The [physical] integrity of the pipe was not compromised but the FOG were causing severe clogs,” White said. “Grease and film would build up on the walls of the pipe, snagging other debris and creating a bigger clog.
“When we would have a clog, we would send out crews and they would high-pressure jet out that [problem] area, as well as mechanically cut out any root and debris,” he said.
But the SSO problems continued to plague the City and in 2002, Georgia EPD ordered that the City of Griffin create a FOG program to address the issue. “[The SSOs] were just constant,” White said.
Early on, White said he spent most of his time educating and explaining the purpose and goals of the FOG program to the city’s restaurants, hospitals, day care centers, schools and industries. Not an easy task. He also explained what the FOG were doing to the sewer pipes and the resulting costs that are passed on. He also had to allow time for those businesses to purchase and install the required grease traps, which can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000.
Needless to say, White was not the most popular guy when he walked into those establishments. “When I first started this program, people hated me,” White said, laughing. “In 2002, we started the process of gathering information about the [businesses]. It was a two-year process because during that time, we had to get the [businesses] that didn’t have grease traps in place at the time to install them. There were a lot of questions and anxiety about the cost [to them].”
The key, White said, was that the city and the business were working together to make the program a success. By 2004, White responded back to the Georgia EPD that the city was in full compliance with the order to implement a FOG program.
“Once the program was in effect, it took about a year for it to show in our [sewer] system that it was working,” White said.
Why the Program Works
Critical to the program is the regular cleaning and inspection of the sewer lines. “We camera inspect about 120,000 ft each year and clean about 160,000 ft a year as part of our scheduled maintenance,” White said. “It’s a goal of the city to camera inspect every line within a five-year period.”
Using CUES cameras in conjunction with POSM software and Vac-Con jetting trucks and Mongoose jet trailers, the City has developed its preventative maintenance program for its lines. “We have certain areas we run through on the GIS mapping system,” White said. “We camera inspect it and determine what the line looks like, looking for FOG buildup or cracks in the pipe. If it’s something the crews need to get the rodding system to cut through or use high-pressure jetter, that is done. Then the camera is run back through to make sure it’s clear.”
White and Beasley also credit the POSM software the City is using to gather and analyze the data. “POSM integrated its software into our GIS software,” White said. “Now, we can go into a GIS map, click on a sewer line and it’s able to tell us that the line has been inspected. It also shows video of the inspection, giving us a before and after look. The software gives us a database of information for each line.”
Beasley said you can see the difference in the pipes by watching the inspection video. “Before you could see where we would have a lot of grease collection on the pipes. Today, the pipes are much better,” he said.
White also keeps track of just how much grease is not making it into the City’s sewer system, instead being removed from grease traps and hauled away. To date, 2011 shows that 239,330 gals of grease from the City’s commercial establishments were kept from going into Griffin’s system, he said.
White and Beasley said it’s been a long and arduous process but the results have made the painstaking efforts worth it. “It’s not a fast job to get done,” Beasley said. “It takes patience. A lot of people are going to be upset at first but you have to stay persistent and know that [the FOG program] will work.”
Sharon M. Bueno is managing editor of Trenchless Technology.
Georgia FOG Alliance Helps to Educate Cities on FOG Issues
Doug White is the FOG compliance program coordinator for the City of Griffin, Ga., but his involvement in ridding his city’s sewers of fats, oils and grease go far beyond its borders. White is also chairman of the Georgia FOG Alliance, a non-profit organization that provides information, education and networking with any municipality or local governing authority (LGA) that wishes to develop a FOG program.
Established in 2001 with about 20 members, today the alliance has more than 160. Its April conference attracted more than 500 attendees, with some coming as far as California, Texas and Washington seeking information on how to create a similar organization in their states. Interest in the alliance has continued to grow as more states are looking into creating similar FOG organizations, White said.
White said the alliance can help municipalities and LGAs develop a FOG program to meet their needs, giving them a model to get started. The alliance has also worked with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) to create legislation concerning the hauling and dumping of grease, something that went undocumented and unenforced for many years. In 2005, the Georgia Commercial Waste Transporter Law — written with the assistance of the Georgia FOG Alliance — was passed, creating a uniformed manifesting system in Georgia, which shows where each grease load is pumped, hauled and disposed of.
For more information on the Georgia FOG Alliance, visit www.georgiafog.com.