How to Identify and Reduce Inflow and Infiltration in a Collection System

October 18, 2017

When ground water and stormwater enter city collection systems — known as inflow and infiltration — treatment plants become less efficient and systems become strained. This additional water can also cost cities money. Here are some ways to identify and address the issue.

What is inflow and infiltration?

Inflow happens when groundwater and stormwater seep into the sanitary sewer system through private and public defects within the collection system. Residential homes or businesses can contribute to the issue in a number of ways — downspouts, sump pumps, driveway drains, stairwells and even streams can contribute to the inflow. Public infrastructure can contribute when a storm sewer is cross connected with a wastewater system. Leaky or vented manhole covers also contribute. 

Infiltration is when groundwater enters the sanitary sewer system through faulty pipes or manholes. These pipes might have cracks or leaks that let the water in. This can happen because of age, design, installation or maintenance issues or even tree root intrusion.

The infiltration in this 18-inch pipe is caused by a crack leaking approximately eight gallons per minute. This equates to 4,204,800 gallons per year for a cost of approximately $10,500. 

video footage of infiltration
CCTV cameras travel the lenth of a pipe, in search of possible inflow and infiltration.
video footage of infiltration
Inflow and infiltration is detected in this pipe, and could result in four-million gallons of excess water into the system if left unfixed.

How does inflow and infiltration add costs? 

Inflow and infiltration water is referred to as “clear water,” distinguishing it from sanitary sewage water. When clear water gets into the wastewater or sewer system, it gets treated. And when it gets treated it costs cities money. It also takes up valuable capacity within a collection system. This is a problem for cities whose collection system may already be working at maximum capacity. Clear water also takes up valuable capacity at the wastewater treatment facility. 

Susan Danzl, SEH wastewater engineer, says “Accommodating inflow and infiltration at the treatment facility results in oversized, overpriced treatment systems and can cause inefficient treatment, add to treatment costs and potentially lead to illicit discharges into lakes and rivers because the treatment plant capacity has been reached.”

Cities must often decide between investing dollars to reduce inflow and infiltration or limiting new residential or economic development. New development can strain collection systems already at their capacity, leading to further repairs. But, limiting residential or economic development opportunities stifles a city’s growth and sacrifices opportunities to capture tax revenue. Both can create a financial burden for the city. 

This rendering shows some common examples of inflow and infiltration.

Common examples of I/I in a city sanitary and storm sewer system
Common examples of inflow and infiltration in a city sanitary and storm sewer system.

According to Kirby Van Note, SEH water resources practice center leader, a single leak from a joint in a manhole or pipe can generate 7,200 gallons of water each day. After being treated at the wastewater plant, that water can translate into an annual cost of $6,500 for a city. Multiply this cost by the number of leaks across the sanitary sewer system and it could mean a hefty price tag for a city.

How do you know if you have an inflow and infiltration issue?

Michael Ostendorf, SEH wastewater engineer, says your city may have an inflow and infiltration issue if you experience any of the following:

  • Your lift station pumps run for a long time after a rain event. It has a large number of starts and stops after it rains. This means stormwater has entered the sanitary sewer system and is on its way to be treated.
  • Pipes back-up. Residential or business basements flood during a rain event. Manholes spill wastewater onto roadways or green space.
  • You see significant spikes in flow at your wastewater treatment plant corresponding to precipitation events or high groundwater conditions.
manhole overflowing
A manhole overflowing after a rainfall event is a sign of an inflow and infiltration issue.

How to identify inflow and infiltration

There are some things cities can do to find problem connections and leaks to reduce or stop inflow and infiltration. And they might not be as costly as you think.

1. Flow monitoring

The first step in identifying inflow and infiltration is to identify where problems are occurring and isolate the areas that have the worst inflow and infiltration. Set up flow monitoring instruments in each of your city’s sewersheds. By monitoring the flows, you can better identify which areas may have problems.

2. Manhole inspections and 3D technology

Inspection of manholes can identify leaks from joints and provides the opportunity to review the drainage near a structure. Manholes can be located within a wetland or ditch that gets submerged during rain events. These manholes can contribute significant inflow and infiltration through leaky covers. 3D manhole scanning technology can inspect manholes and uncover these defects.  

Related Content: What’s Going On Down There? Technology Speeds Critical Infrastructure Assessment

3D Panorama inspection of a sanitary sewer manhole
3D Panorama inspection of a sanitary sewer manhole taken during a sunny day. The circles indicate areas of concern including mineral deposits and active infiltration.

Fortunately, there are some actions you can take after a manhole inspection reveals inflow and infiltration. Here are a few.

1. Replace the manhole covers.
a. Cost – approximately $200/cover
b. Inflow and infiltration reduction could be $350/year or more if the covers are submerged during rain events.

2. Chemical grouting to seal up leaky joints.
a. Cost – $500 and up
b. Reduction could be as much as $5,000 per year per manhole.

3. Line the manhole.
a. Cost – approximately $3,000
b. Could reduce costs by $20,000 per year per manhole

epoxy type lining system
This manhole was rehabilitated using an epoxy type lining system. Note that inflow and infiltration has been eliminated and the manhole is also structurally repaired.

3. Smoke testing

This method for identifying inflow and infiltration typically involves residential areas. A blower is set up over a neighborhood manhole and non-toxic smoke is pumped through the sewer line. The smoke is pressurized and follows the path of any leaks in the system, revealing the location of the inflow and infiltration. Sources of inflow and infiltration can be cracks in the sewer pipes themselves, roof drains, cleanout caps inside homes, damaged or faulty manholes, or a cross-connection between a storm sewer and a sanitary sewer.

After smoke testing reveals inflow and infiltration, there are a number of things you can do to reduce or eliminate it. However, depending on where the leaks are found, the fixes can fall on homeowners. These are things like disconnecting the roof drains and fixing the cleanout caps. If the testing reveals leaks in the city connections, you may have to eliminate the storm and sanitary cross connections. This can be costlier, but yields great savings over time. A vent improperly connected to the sanitary sewer can produce more than 50 gpm during a rainfall event. This can cost thousands of dollars each year in treatment costs and increases the potential for exceeding the capacity of the collection system.

Smoke escaping from roof drain
Smoke escaping from roof drain (left) and a floor drain (right) during an inflow and infiltration smoke test. Both photos show a high likelihood of potential inflow and infiltration concern.

4. Dye testing

Dye testing can be used to identify leaks and confirm smoke testing results and uses water mixed with a non-toxic dye. The colored water is pumped through the ground and stormwater system and appears in the sanitary sewer collection system where leaks occur. 

Dye testing uses colored water
Dye testing uses colored water to help identify sources of inflow and infiltration.
Dye testing uses colored water
Here, the pink dye is seen running through the manhole from the mainline pipe.

5. Closed circuit television inspection/Pipe inspection

By using closed circuit television (CCTV) a city can peek inside their pipes. A small camera travels down the length of a pipe and produces visuals where an operator can identify leaks by way of a monitor viewed at the surface.

CCTV inspections can reveal the need for rehabilitating leaky pipes. Pipe rehabilitation options can include cured in place piping (CIPP) trenchless rehabilitation, chemical grouting to seal up leaks and open cut replacement of pipes.

Related Content: How Innovative Trenchless Technology Saved a Car Show

This inspection shows inflow and infiltration as evidenced by mineral deposits and active flow from joints and a crack within the 12-inch reinforced concrete pipe. 

video footage of infiltration
CCTV cameras locate mineral deposits from joints and cracks in this concrete pipe.
video footage of infiltration
A closer look at mineral deposits in this 12-inch concrete pipe.

In addition to CCTV, Electroscan can approximate Inflow and Infiltration in pipe segments. The technology uses low-voltage electrical currents to assess sewer pipes. By sending a low-voltage electrical current through a non-metal pipe (water or sewer pipes made of brick, cement, concrete, plastic or pipe-lining resins), Electroscan measures the variation in the electricity passing through any pipe defects.

Related Content: Learn more about Electroscan in this video.

6. Private property inspections

Residential sump pumps and foundation drain lines are sometimes improperly hooked up to the sanitary sewer laterals. A single sump pump can send more than 7,000 gallons of water to the system during a rainfall event. That’s about the same as the average daily flow from 18 homes! 

technician uses CCTV to identify possible I/I
A technician uses CCTV to identify possible inflow and infiltration from leaky joints, foundation drains and cracks within a service lateral.

According to Van Note, a properly constructed and maintained sanitary collection system will result in acceptable levels of inflow and infiltration each year. These levels vary from city to city and from system to system. As the system ages, it becomes more susceptible to surface and groundwater infiltration and increased maintenance problems and if it is not addressed. This can lead to greater and increasing collection and treatment costs over time. 

“A single inflow and infiltration defect caused by a joint leak in a manhole or collection pipe can result in treatment costs of up to $30,000 over the life of the wastewater treatment plant,” Van Note says.

The best way to identify these connections is through a dedicated inspection program, which includes evaluation of the sewer ordinance.

In Foley, Minnesota, the City inspected more than 800 properties and found 224 of the homes to have foundation drains connected to the City’s sanitary sewer lateral. Push cameras (CCTV) from the buildings located the pipes connected to the City main. 

If the results from private property inspections indicate inflow and infiltration, here are some solutions:

Sump pump discharge relocations
a. Cost – $100-$1,000
b. Could reduce costs up to $500 per year depending on the amount of flow through the sump pump.

Foundation drain disconnections and sump pump installations
a. Cost – $500-$5,000
b. Could reduce costs up to $1,000 per year depending on the amount of flow.

Service lateral lining and/or replacement
a. Cost – $1,000-$8,000
b. Could reduce costs up to $750 per year depending on the amount of flow through the lateral joints and cracks.

Bringing it all together

Inflow and infiltration adds clear water to a city’s sewer system. When this happens it can cause backups, system strains and interruptions. Because the water is treated along with wastewater, the costs add up. By identifying inflow and infiltration early on, cities can make arrangements to correct the problem.

About the Experts

Kirby Van Note

Kirby Van Note is a water resources engineer and SEH practice center leader committed to helping cities save money through identifying and resolving inflow and infiltration.
Contact Kirby

Mike Ostendorf

Mike Ostendorf is a wastewater engineer specializing in sensible solutions for inflow and infiltration.
Contact Mike

Susan Danzl

Susan Danzl, PE, is an SEH wastewater engineer who helps cities maximize their treatment facility capabilities, saving time, money and resources.
Contact Susan

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